Hassiet Asberom admits it freely: “Working in an emergency room during COVID was terrifying,” she said.
It was not, however, discouraging. In fact, Asberom said the two years she spent 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 — even during the pandemic — strengthened her resolve to become a doctor.
Earlier this month, she took a step in that direction. As a new student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, she recently donned a white coat for the first time, symbolizing the start of her journey to becoming a physician.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have transformed her job, but the challenges she faced reinforced her commitment to a career of helping others.
“The experience made me realize that I cannot shy away from this profession,” she said. “I saw how the team was able to adapt in ways I didn’t know was possible. That was truly inspiring.”
At the medical school’s White Coat Ceremony in the Rutgers Athletic Center, Asberom joined 165 incoming students who donned 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 Johnson, interim dean of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick 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,” he said.
The White Coat Ceremony, held annually to welcome incoming medical students and emphasize the importance of practicing humanism in medicine, culminates a weeklong orientation and signifies the students’ entrance into the medical profession.
Getting a white coat may signify the start of a journey for some. For Asberom, it’s just another step along the way.
Asberom, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Ethiopia and Eritrea — raising her and her sisters in West Orange — said she 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 Asberom discovered her interest in teaching.
“I worked with adolescents and young children, and I really loved teaching them,” she said. “Seeing that ‘aha’ moment in their eyes. It was at that point I thought of working in a science career outside of a lab.”
In college at Brown University, Asberom 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.
“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.”