The lab coats, and their wearers, have seen a thing or two in their day.
The sweat of long shifts. Maybe a little bit of blood. And, depending on the coat’s age, maybe a hole from a cigarette burn.
They’ve seen lives begin, and lives come to an end.
On Thursday, they began new lives with students at Akron’s National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School, fittingly on National Doctors Day.
The 263 coats, valued at $11,835, were presented to seventh- and eighth-grade science students who will be able to wear them when doing lab work. The idea is to give the students the experience and feeling of being in a professional setting as they conduct their research.
Summa changed its logo last year and needed to order new coats, so it’s appropriate to give them to students who were learning about science, said Robert DeJournett, Summa director of community relations and diversity.
“We didn’t want to just throw them away, and since we have a great relationship with the Akron Public Schools, we called the schools and asked if they could use them,” DeJournett said. “They were overjoyed. … We want to give back as much as we can to the community.”
The coats span 30 years of use at Summa, said Shash Fox, medical staff coordinator. Some of the originals were made out of heavy canvas. Some of them are brand new, ordered right before the logo changed.
“The names have been scribbled out, but we’re hoping they’ll be able to research what the occupation means,” Fox said, explaining the information still can be seen if held up. “I think it’s going to expose them to careers they never even knew existed. Hopefully someone in this room is going to end up as a future physician.”
“The name is always connected to a story,” Katrina Halasa, the district’s learning specialist for health and science K-12, told the students. “There’s always a story behind people. So you may look at it and say it’s a name crossed off, but that’s a life, and that life has a story that could be shared with you.”
“And hopefully someday, you will be donating a coat to the next class,” Fox said.
It took about a year to collect all the coats.
It took about 46 years for Dr. Dale Murphy, who specializes in internal medicine, to get where he is today. Murphy has been with Summa for all of that time.
“I hope it inspires them to work hard to be whatever they want to be,” he said, when asked how it made him feel to know someone who is just starting out would be receiving his coat. “I hope that some of them will become doctors.”
He remembers the first time he put on a white coat, at his medical school ceremony.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “All of a sudden, you’re part of an incredibly talented group of people. You’re dumber than a stump, but you’re at the beginning of it.
“I think it’s wonderful what they’re doing here because back in the ’70s there was nothing like this in the Akron Public Schools,” he said. “It’s great to see that this kind of stuff is happening for kids who are maybe on a different track than others.”
Summa’s gift was special, Halasa told the students.
“Today, we are asking you to have a vision of where you could be as either a scientist, someone who is working in technology, engineering or math,” Halasa said. “So we are presenting you with white coats.
“The important thing to realize is that you are the next generation,” she said. “You are going to replace the people that are already doing great things but you are going to move it to the next level. … It’s a vision for you to understand you are going to become this next person.”
It takes some time to become a doctor, Murphy told the students. At least 12 years, depending on the specialty.
“So it’s a long haul,” Murphy said. “It takes a lot of work, and you guys are starting to do that hard work now by learning science,” and other subjects.
He was wearing his newest coat, estimating he’s gone through about 10, or one every 4½ years. “That’s pretty gross, isn’t it?” he quipped.”
“Most of them probably have a stain of some kind,” he continued. “It’s usually coffee. If it’s a really older coat it could have a cigarette hole but we don’t allow smoking in the hospital anymore, so you’re not going to see much of that. But occasionally you will see blood.”
“I threw those out,” Fox said.
The room became a sea of white coats as the teachers opened bag after bag and handed them out. Seventh-graders Charles Johnson and Noah Smith, both 13, tried on their coats, which were from the same person, a vascular surgeon. The coats came past their knees and covered part of their hands.
“I’m going to look [vascular surgery] up,” Noah said. “It sounds pretty cool. It seems like an important job to be in.”
Wearing the white coat, Noah said, felt “science-y.” He thought about a career in medicine, but “engineering is more my speed. ... I don’t like having the pressure of having other people’s lives in my hands. It’s one of those things that’s big, and it’s stuff you want to do, but then again it’s really important and you don’t know if you are up to the task.”
“I have,” Charles said. “I’ve thought about being a heart doctor. ... I’ve always been interested in surgery, knowing about the human body. Having the chance to see inside the human body is just really cool, and saving lives.”
And now, with his white coat, he’s one step closer.
Monica L. Thomas can be reached at 330-996-3827 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MLThomasABJ and www.facebook.com/MLThomasABJ.