Vassar Celebrates Ongoing Collaboration with Rwanda Medical School at White Coat Ceremony

Photos courtesy of Asher Habinshuti, the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) and Partners In Health Rwanda

Vassar President Elizabeth H. Bradley addressed 41 students as they reached a milestone in their education at the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda on February 21. Bradley, who holds a PhD in Public Health from Yale University, was the principal speaker at UGHE’s White Coat Ceremony, which marked the end of two years of academic study and the start of four years of clinical training.

Pictured: Elizabeth Bradley. Person speaking at a podium with a white lab coat on. Behind the podium is a banner that reads, "MBBS/MGHD Class of 2028."
“I have witnessed your courage,” President Bradley told the 41 students.

Bradley said Vassar’s ongoing partnership with UGHE had enabled her to witness firsthand the value of the institution’s enlightened approach to preparing students to embark on a medical career. Vassar and UGHE forged a partnership in 2019 to help the new medical school blend the liberal arts into its curriculum. “I have seen you in class and I have watched the development of your curriculum and various projects—and from my perspective of thirty years teaching medical and public health students, I must say you are among the most inspiring with whom I have worked,” she said. “I have witnessed your courage to learn new material, your commitment to help each other succeed in class, and your devotion to a career to help people who face enormous adversity.”

Person standing at a podium speaking flanked by people wearing lab coats. The tarp behind them reads, "White Coat Ceremony - Celebration."
A UGHE student dons her white coat during ceremonies at the Rwanda medical school on February 21.

Bradley called the UGHE model “unique in the globe. It was developed to fit its circumstances here in Africa, but honestly, the approach is enormously applicable not only in Rwanda and on the African continent but also in higher-income settings, which sadly have in many parts of the world developed around concepts of competition and economic efficiency rather than on the bedrock principles of UGHE: collaboration and social equity.”

Bradley said she was impressed by the stories the students related during and after the ceremony. “I was once again taken by how inclusive the collective the culture is,” she said. “The students and their families all spoke about becoming doctors to help people who are struggling; they had such empathy for others.”

People dancing under a tent  with astroturf under foot clapping and wearing lab coats.
“And now it’s time to dance….”

Bradley said that while she was honored to have been asked to speak at the ceremony, she wasn’t prepared for one segment of the celebration. “About halfway through the ceremony, someone announced, ‘It’s time to dance,’” the President related. She said she initially declined but was told she was to be the first to join in the fun. “So I danced,” Bradley said. “And then I told the students they were bound to become influencers because NO ONE gets me to dance.”

Rows of graduates posing outside next to a building in front of a tarp that reads, "White Coat Ceremony."
President Bradley (far left) and students, faculty and administrators of the University of Global Health Equity at the conclusion of the White Coat Ceremony

In the three days following the White Coat Ceremony, Bradley and two other Vassar administrators, Carlos Garcia, Vice President for Technology and Human Resources, and Wesley Dixon, Deputy to the President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, led a workshop for leaders of the UGHE faculty. The course focused on strategic problem solving and leadership development. It was designed in collaboration with UGHE’s Center for Leadership in Global Health Equity. “Participants in the program were introduced to a strategic problem-solving framework and practiced using this framework by pitching strategies to solve pressing problems in their current work settings,” Dixon said. “They also participated in seminars that focused on the attributes of high-functioning teams and fostering strong organizational culture.”

Pictured: Elizabeth Bradley. Standing in front of a classroom of seated students pointing at a projected image on a screen.
President Bradley and two other Vassar administrators, Carlos Garcia, Vice President for Technology and Human Resources, and Wesley Dixon, Deputy to the President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, led a workshop for leaders of the UGHE faculty.

Garcia said he and his Vassar colleagues took away as much from the course as they had given. “We learned a ton from the participants in the course,” he said. “I viewed the experience as an opportunity to implement some of the strategies we talked about in Rwanda back here at Vassar.

“The workshops also enabled the people there to get to know one another better,” Garcia continued. “One of their principal goals is to elevate the medical infrastructure of the country, especially in rural areas, and they and their students are clearly invested in their mission.”

March 11, 2024