Next class of physicians gathers for White Coat Ceremony

July 17, 2023

Incoming UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson medical students will receive their official white coats representing their future profession on July 21 at Centennial Hall.


This week, 120 University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson students will take part in a July 21 White Coat Ceremony to welcome the Class of 2027. The ceremony will be held at Centennial Hall at 1020 E. University Blvd., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event recognizes medical students’ entry into medicine with their first physician’s white coat, the garment of their future profession.

“We are excited to welcome the Class of 2027 to the College of Medicine – Tucson with the White Coat Ceremony. This ceremony is an opportunity to welcome students into our professional community and remind them of the values they will be held accountable for as medical students and physicians,” said Kevin Moynahan, MD, the college’s vice dean for education and a professor of medicine. “The COVID-19 pandemic served as a powerful reminder of the indispensable role of medical professionals in our society. As we welcome this incoming class, we celebrate the duty of physicians to serve their communities by providing compassionate, patient-centered medical care.”

The White Coat Ceremony is considered a rite of passage in most U.S. medical schools. The first University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson White Coat event was held in 1995, and it has been a tradition for incoming UArizona medical students since. The Arnold P. Gold Foundation established the first white coat ceremony in 1993 at Columbia University in New York as a way to highlight the importance of humanism in all care of patients.

Guest Speaker

Speaking at the event will be Class of 2006 alum Felipe Perez, MD, FAAFP, designated institutional official, director of Medical and Health Professions Education, director of a Family Medicine Residency Program and center director of the Southern Arizona Area Health Education at El Rio Community Health Center. Dr. Perez earned his medical degree from the College of Medicine – Tucson and attended Scripps Family Medicine Residency Program in Southern California, where he served as chief resident during his last year of training. He is focused on exploring innovative graduate medical education models to help address social determinants of health in rural and underserved communities.

Class of 2027

The Class of 2027 is 62% female and 38% male, with ages ranging from 20 to 36. Of 120 students, 89 are from Arizona, 26 are from Tucson and 12% are first-generation college students.

Below are profiles of a few of the students participating:

Jeff Greenfield: ‘Looking forward to being able to make a difference’

Growing up in Kansas, Jeff Greenfield had an interest in the way the body works and how drugs and chemicals can interact with it. He knew he wanted to work in science, and an elective in high school put him on the path to medical school.

“I came across a class where we helped our classmates with disabilities,” he said. “My relationships with them were really important. I knew that whatever I wanted to do, I would incorporate the science with relationships with those people who I felt were so misunderstood.”

Those students inspired Greenfield to major in physiology and medical sciences with a minor in special education. He wanted to continue the interplay between his two interests that started in high school.

Greenfield is excited to continue his journey toward becoming a physician at the College of Medicine – Tucson, and he can’t wait to get started.

“I want to keep learning more and impact people. I’m looking forward to being able to make a difference sooner rather than later,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s why I want to go into this.”

Mele Vaohoi Kona Hala’ufia: ‘I want to be a doctor people can count on’

Mele Vaohoi Kona Hala’ufia grew up in Tucson and earned her undergraduate degree in physiology at the College of Medicine – Tucson. She didn’t always know she wanted to be a doctor, but her participation in high school athletics started her on a path that led to medical school.

Hala’ufia’s interest in health care continued to grow during her time in college, and she earned an EMT certification to gain firsthand clinical experience. While Hala’ufia didn’t immediately use her EMT skills, the experience proved vital after she graduated in 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I graduated from college, the first COVID-19 vaccines were coming out,” Hala’ufia explained. “I wanted to use my EMT certification to help in any way I could with the pandemic, so I got a job as a COVID vaccinator and spent a lot of time traveling throughout Arizona giving COVID vaccines. I felt good about it because I was helping my community through the pandemic.”

The College of Medicine – Tucson was an obvious choice for Hala’ufia, considering its proximity to her family and the opportunities for service. She knows the area has a large immigrant population in need of physicians, and Hala’ufia hopes to continue serving those groups.

“I really want to be a doctor who people know they can count on,” Hala’ufia said. “I hope to be involved in the immigrant community when I’m a physician as well. That’s what I want for my career in medicine.”

Alexandra Miller: ‘I want to be at the forefront’

Alexandra Miller wanted to be a doctor since she was a 5-year-old helping her great-grandfather with his insulin shots. In middle school, after talking to a cousin doing his postdoctoral work, she learned that research could be a career and switched her sights to science.

“I got to college and found out you can do both,” said Miller, who is entering the College of Medicine – Tucson as an MD/PhD student. “Physician-scientists are at the pinnacle of translation. You are going between bench and bedside. To have the ability to translate research back into the clinic is a huge goal of mine.”

She also had a couple of summer internships: the first with a neurology team in a local hospital and the second diving into cancer genetics at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she was hired by the Mayo Clinic, where she worked in a lipid genomics lab and supervised the clinical genomics department’s research program.

“My experience at Mayo cultivated that passion for genomics. Incredible innovations have happened in the last two decades. There is this revolution coming to health care, and I want to be at the forefront of it.”

Brianna Itzel Valencia: ‘A small ripple will become a big wave’

Brianna Itzel Valencia grew up in San Luis, a border town outside Yuma where she and her two siblings were raised by a single mother.

“My mom was my first role model — her work ethic, her strength. Seeing her sacrifices fueled me,” Valencia said. “At a young age, I was like, ‘What can I do to help my mom?’ I assumed those responsibilities, that caretaker role.”

A television reality series called “Trauma: Life in the ER” showed her how science could be combined with her love for helping people. In middle school, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious summer program and spent three weeks in New England learning about anatomy and physiology.

“Knowing the intricacies of the human body, like a mechanic with a car, I was like, ‘Wow, I could see myself doing this.’ I got hooked,” she said.

Her goal to be a physician locked in, Valencia enrolled in P-MAP, an intensive medical school preparation program for promising students who have faced considerable obstacles.

“I wanted to be at the top of my game, to make sure I had the strategies down to study,” she said. But she drew even greater strength from the sense of community she built with other students. “It solidified that I do belong on campus, that I deserved to be there.”

A family tradition may be in the making. Valencia’s younger sister was recently accepted to the College of Medicine – Phoenix’s Pathway Scholars Program, which is similar to P-MAP. She says they dream of returning to San Luis to offer primary and preventive health care to migrant and undocumented workers as well as the greater community.

“I want to make an impact, even if it’s something small. I don’t think you need to make big waves, because even a small ripple will become a big wave eventually,” she says. “I’m always going to think of myself as a kid from San Luis who had a dream, and now she’s here.”

See full student profiles:


Anna Christensen
College of Medicine – Tucson