EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage for UTEP’s Clinical Laboratory Sciences graduates, it marks the formal beginning of their professional healthcare careers. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony had to be altered.
This year, 20 graduates from the CLS program received their white lab coats during a special drive-in ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 16, in a UTEP parking lot. Typically, the ceremony is held ahead of UTEP’s spring commencement ceremony, which has now been rescheduled to September 12, 2020 in the Sun Bowl.
“The crisis conditions of a pandemic, such as the one we are experiencing now, will reveal the state of health systems around the world,” said College of Health Sciences Dean Shafik Dharamsi, Ph.D. “This pandemic has confirmed how critical it is to prepare the next generation of health professionals with competencies in primary care, public health, and disease prevention – our survival depends on it!”
Rather than host a traditional ceremony where graduates receive their lab coats on stage, officials changed the setting from an indoor venue to UTEP’s SC1 parking lot in order to follow safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Graduates were presented their lab coats and other honors as they sat in front of their vehicles. Family and friends who accompanied them remained in their vehicles and watched the ceremony streamed online.
“We are so proud of our graduates,” UTEP CLS Program Director Lorraine Torres, Ed.D., said. “We consider them heroes who will be on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve worked really hard to get here, and we want to recognize them for their achievements.”
Since the Clinical Laboratory Sciences program at UTEP began in 1976, more than 800 students have graduated from the program. As part of their education, students engage in clinical practicums in clinical facilities in El Paso, including the El Paso Department of Public Health.
Using sophisticated molecular diagnostic techniques, clinical laboratory scientists examine body fluids, tissue and other specimens to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes and identify bacteria and viruses such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Physicians rely on this information to determine the best treatment plan for the patient.
Since April 2020, CLS faculty have been working with the city’s public health department to analyze patient samples for COVID-19. Six of the department’s laboratory staff are graduates of UTEP’s CLS program.