Newswise — Piscataway, NJ – Hassiet Asberom spent the last two years as a medical scribe in an emergency room fulfilling a notetaking role that makes it possible for physicians to focus their full attention on patients. Although the COVID-19 pandemic transformed her job, the challenges she faced reinforced her commitment to a career of helping others.

As a new student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, she recently adorned a white coat for the first time, symbolizing the start of her journey to becoming a physician. 

“Working in an emergency room during COVID was terrifying, but the experience made me realize that I can not shy away from this profession,” Hassiet explained. “I saw how the team was able to adapt in ways I didn’t know was possible. That was truly inspiring.”

Hassiet, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Ethiopia and Erithea raising her and her sisters in West Orange, knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in science, similar to her father who is a chemist. But it was when she became a tutor in high school, that Hassiet discovered her interest in teaching.

“I worked with adolescents and young children and I really loved teaching them, and seeing that ‘a-ha’ moment in their eyes. It was at that point I thought of working in a science career outside of a lab,” Hassiet said.

In college at Brown University, Hassiet shadowed emergency room and oncology physicians and found value in a career that combines the love of science and teaching. But it was the two years at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston that solidified her commitment to becoming a physician.

At the medical school’s White Coat Ceremony in the Rutgers Athletic Center, Hassiet joined 165 incoming students who adorned their white coats for the first time and recited the Oath of Hippocrates, swearing to uphold the ethical standards of medicine. The first-year class was joined by second-year medical students who were unable to celebrate in-person in 2020 due to the pandemic.

During the ceremony, Robert L. Johnson, interim dean of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and dean of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, reflected on the challenges and loss of life experienced during the pandemic. He also spoke of hope and the dedication of faculty, staff and students who bonded together to advance treatment, improve scientific knowledge of the virus, and reach out to communities in order to better serve patients. 

“Today, we celebrate as a community and recommit to hope as we strive to create and implement a healthier environment in which to live and work, based on knowledge and respect,” Johnson said.

The White Coat Ceremony, held annually to welcome incoming medical students and emphasize the importance of practicing humanism in medicine, culminates a week-long orientation and signifies the students’ entrance into the medical profession.

Not shy at seeking out challenges Hassiet, who learned Mandarin in high school and travelled solo to China as a teenager to teach English, is excited to begin her journey at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and work with faculty who can foster her skills as a future physician. 

“This is something I’ve wanted for so long,” she said. “The support of my family and friends and my determination are the reasons I am at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the reason I’m going to be a doctor.”