Former medical scribes will study alongside a middle school math teacher from Detroit, a high school wrestling coach and an EMT who served in San Diego at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chosen from 7,309 applications and 694 interviews, the 187-member Class of 2024 is comprised of 95 Virginians and 92 out-of-state students, and is 55 percent female.

After a week of orientation activities, the students heard from medical school faculty member and alumna Robin Foster, M’89, H’92, who was keynote speaker at the virtual 2020 Transition to Medical School program.

“Each one of you has a story of resilience and fortitude and sacrifice that has gotten you to where you are today … What I celebrate the most is that each of your stories is completely different,” Foster said. “Each of you came from a totally unique starting point and you end up here, in the same class. We’ve all chosen medicine and medicine has chosen us.”

This year, the Transition to Medical School program was held instead of a White Coat Ceremony, a rite of passage that got its start in the mid-1990s at medical schools across the country – about a decade after Foster started medical school.

“I’m going to tell you a secret,” the longtime emergency medicine and pediatrics faculty member told the Class of 2024. “After medical school, I never wore a white coat again (except for my faculty photo — and that was a loaner). I’m a pediatrician. I don’t want the symbolism of a white coat, which we don so proudly and which does represent all the good work done in the world by physicians, to ever stand in the way of a child or parent feeling comfortable sharing something important with me — like the fact that they weren’t able to find formula or diapers in the corner store during the shortages created during COVID.”

Foster, director and co-founder of the Child Protection Team at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, said when she enters the exam room, she sits on the trash can or kneels at the bedside. “Families need to know we are willing to learn from them and they will be more willing to learn from us.”

Her words rang true for the students entering medical school during a worldwide pandemic and a national movement to address social and health inequities. They watched her keynote address during a virtual livestream that also included a Presentation of the Class of 2024 and Administration of the Hippocratic Oath. An in-person White Coat Ceremony will be held at a later date.

More than ever, Foster said the chaos of COVID-19 reminded her of why she’s so grateful to be a physician. “I still got to go to work every day. My life still had a sense of purpose and I still had the ability to help others.”

As the students begin the next phase in their journey to achieve what has been for many a lifelong dream, Foster encouraged them to expand their academic skills and learn how to truly listen and show empathy for their patients.

“Take care of every patient and his or her family as if they were your own,” Foster said. “No matter how smart we are, we are not always going to be perfect, but we can always be compassionate and respectful of the concerns of others.”

The remarkable Class of 2024

They’ve ridden motorcycles and surfboards – and on the back of an ostrich!

We’ve got medical scribes who’ll study alongside a middle school math teacher from Detroit, a high school wrestling coach and a registered nurse from a cardiovascular ICU.

In recent months, one served as a San Diego EMT at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; another got married!

Students have interned at the U.S. Senate, served with AmeriCorps, worked as a health liaison with refugees and on a response team for the West African Ebola virus epidemic.

During college, one started a church, another sang in a band and a third was captain of the VCU cheerleading team.

They’ve studied monkeys in the Costa Rican rainforest, conducted research on dung beetles in Ecuador and been attacked by a lion in South Africa.

Others swam with sharks, went ice climbing in Alaska and hiked eight of Guatemala’s volcanos – including one that erupted during the trek.

We’ve got the current national champion for women's slalom boatercross, a nationally rated table tennis player and a Grand Prix level equestrian show jumper. Along with a published poet, a pair of Eagle Scouts and an extra in a Chris Rock movie.

There’s the one whose secret talent is winning radio contests, and another who’s run five marathons – even after getting lost on the first one and putting in 28 miles accidentally.

A harpist performed twice at Carnegie Hall, a salsa dancer was hired to perform to a Beatles song, and a thrifty child saved all their money so they could buy every single Beatles album – in chronological order.

There’s a baker and a barista, a local who grew up in Short Pump and another who hails from Sydney, Australia. They take their place alongside first-generation immigrants and several who will be the first in their family to be a doctor.