ETSU’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy welcomes Class of 2023

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, August 21, 2019

JOHNSON CITY— East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy welcomed 78 pharmacy students in the Class of 2023 during an orientation week that culminated with a traditional White Coat Ceremony today.

“This is a day that has been long in the making for the students on this stage,” said Dr. Debbie Byrd, dean of Gatton College of Pharmacy. “For them, it began with their desire to seek a profession in health care and culminated with their decision to pursue the practice of pharmacy and admission into pharmacy school.

“This day has special significance,” Byrd added. “We were established in 2005, and with the arrival of the Class of 2023, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy not only has reached full enrollment for the 14th year, but the college also has graduated 10 classes.”

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The White Coat Ceremony was started in 1993 at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons by Dr. Arnold P. Gold, who was a professor and pediatric neurologist. Gold was a passionate advocate for humanistic health care and believed that the oath taken by new physicians at the end of medical school came too late. Through the nonprofit organization that he and his wife, Dr. Sandra Gold, started, The Arnold P. Gold Foundation has expanded the White Coat Ceremony around the globe.

The iconic white coat signifies their status as health care professionals and a tradition of humanistic care.

Gatton’s Class of 2023 was cloaked by Byrd; Steve Ellis, assistant dean for student affairs at Gatton; and special guest, Lt. Gov. Governor Randy McNally.

McNally also served as the keynote speaker at the event and received special recognition from the pharmacy school. A legislative leader for nearly 40 years, McNally has been recognized for both his work in the Tennessee General Assembly and in his community. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Memphis State University in 1967. Called to the health care profession, McNally graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in 1969. After starting his career working in community pharmacies, McNally joined Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge as a staff pharmacist. He worked at the Center from 1979 until his retirement in 2010.

McNally first answered the call to public service in 1978 when he ran for the state house. He won the election and served four terms. It was in the state house where he first served on the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. His work on the Finance Committee in both the House and the Senate would become his passion and where he made his greatest impact on the state.

In addition to his 26 years on the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee, McNally also served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the 102nd and 103rd General Assemblies. He became Lieutenant Governor in 2017.

In his remarks, McNally commented on the importance of lifelong learning, good communication and pharmacists’ roles in fighting the opioid crisis.

“You’ll have a lot of learning to do as you proceed through your career, and communication is so important — being able to ask questions that don’t elicit a yes or no answer, but asking questions that probe into things,” McNally said. “This way you can really help your patients, physicians you work with and other members of the medical team.”

Other speakers at the White Coat Ceremony included Dr. Wilsie Bishop, senior vice president for academics at ETSU, and Jonathan Thomas Brewster, president of Gatton’s Class of 2022. Daniel Cox, president of Gatton’s Class of 2020, administered the oath of a pharmacist.

While usually held at ETSU’s Martha Culp Auditorium, this year’s White Coat Ceremony was held at First Christian Church due to the renovations at the D.P. Culp Center.

To learn more about Gatton College of Pharmacy, visit