Naomi Wriston, D.O., M.S., FAOCOPM, was one of 33 people in the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) first graduating class in 1978. On Aug. 25, she delivered a keynote speech to 206 first-year medical students during the school’s annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony.
She recounted stories about the school in its early years – how the majority of the “non-traditional” students searched for places to live in Lewisburg, how Gwen Clingman cooked large pots of food to feed students for $1.05, and how custodians would place black plastic over the windows to darken a histology classroom in order for students to be able to see slides through their microscopes.
“WVSOM in 1974 may not have been considered the ideal learning environment,” Wriston shared with the audience. “However, the real question then as it is now for you – will WVSOM give me the education I need to become a good physician?”
She explained how her education at WVSOM prepared her to see patients and often set her apart during rotations in hospitals and clinics, even though in the late 1970s being a woman in medicine was not the norm.
“During my fourth year, a pulmonologist in Florida said he would never call a woman ‘doctor’ and when we would go to the bedside he would call all the male residents, interns and students doctor but he called me Miss Naomi. He was probably teasing me, and he eventually called me doctor when I answered a question the others could not, but it still stung when you’re a fourth-year medical student,” she said. “We still have a ways to go, but discrimination is less obvious. Remember, females were about 15 percent of the class then, and in most medical schools now they are 50 percent.”
The Convocation and White Coat Ceremony marks the Class of 2022’s commitment to a life of health care service. It is the first step in one’s medical school journey as the coat symbolizes each student’s osteopathic pledge to serving communities and residents.
WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., told the class that the ceremony not only welcomes students to WVSOM but into the community of osteopathic physicians.
“You, the members of the Class of 2022, now enter into this rich tradition and will become a part of WVSOM’s legacy – a legacy that includes being one of the best medical schools in the nation and the leader in graduating physicians who practice in rural America,” he said. “Putting on the white coat will not transform you into an osteopathic physician. There’s a lot of hard work that will be required of you to earn that white coat. It will require grow, both intellectually and emotionally, and in time you’ll make that white coat your own. Have a vision for yourself. Imagine what you are becoming. See the end point and go after it.”
More than three decades ago, Wriston had a vision for herself even when the odds may not have been in her favor, but she said, she thinks there is no more exciting profession than medicine.
“One of your classmates said, ‘I know I have an extremely long journey but I think I chose the right school to get me there.’ Do long years, long evenings of study, the missed movies, the hospital food swallowed quickly make a difference? Is it worth it?” Wriston asked of the new students. “I can tell you for me, my family and for my patients it has made a great difference. And it has been well worth it.”
The ceremony also included brief greetings from Board of Governors Chair Charles Davis, D.O., Alumni Association President Robert Olexo, D.O., and West Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association President Arthur Rubin, D.O.
Wriston is certified in family medicine and occupational medicine and is a fellow of the American Osteopathic College of Occupational and Preventive Medicine. She serves as the assistant medical director with OhioHealth Employer Services in Columbus, Ohio, and her clinical practice includes Executive Physical Exams for international companies.
The White Coat Ceremony coincides with WVSOM’s Alumni Weekend hosted by the Alumni Association. Graduates return to campus for continuing medical education and other events including a barbecue and reunion dinner. Some alumni assist in the convocation by presenting white coats to students.