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'Your generation can change this': Heritage College Convocation speaker asks Class of 2027 to end mental health stigma

Be an example of wellness and end the stigma around mental health, keynote speaker Lori Criss told the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Class of 2027 during the college’s 2023 Convocation and White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 18.

Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, told students, “Your generation can change this. Already I see more willingness in institutions and among health care professionals and among young people to talk about mental health. Expect this in your education, and I see this happening here at HCOM, so you’re very lucky.”

Criss asked students to take classes on mental health and substance use disorders and pursue a rotation at a mental health center or psychiatric inpatient setting.

“Be intentional about learning how to help your patients feel safe, acknowledging their risk factors, their symptoms, and then giving them hope that through evidence-based practices you can help them prevent these conditions, you can help them treat them and you can help support their long-term recovery,” she said.

The HCOM 2023 class celebrates with a class photo

At the ceremony, Criss received the college’s Phillips Medal of Public Service, the highest honor bestowed by the college.  The award was given to Criss in recognition and appreciation for the three decades she has worked to make Ohio’s behavioral health services more visible, accessible and effective.

In addition to helping their patients, Criss reminded students to make their own mental health and wellness a priority and look out for each other. She asked them to commit to five things: to connect with others, to spend time daily being still in mind and body, to go outside, to give back to their communities and to practice gratitude every day.

Following the keynote address, students were given a short white coat, which signifies that they are student physicians in training.

“Once you receive your white coat, you no longer represent just yourself but the entirety of the osteopathic profession,” said second-year medical student Jonathan Peters, Student Government Association president on the Dublin Campus and the National Student Government Association representative for the college. “In my short time at HCOM, I’ve learned that medical school is many things. It’s a challenge, a balancing act. But I’ve also come to realize that medical school is family and there is nothing more osteopathic than family.”


HCOM students receive their white coats at the 2023 convocation

More than 4,800 applications were submitted this year for 260 spots in the Heritage College’s Class of 2027. Ninety-five percent of admitted first-year students are from Ohio, 30 percent are from groups underrepresented in medicine, and 19 percent are first generation college students.

“Students, regardless of who you are and where you come from, you were selected because you have the potential to be an outstanding osteopathic physician,” said Heritage College Executive Dean and OHIO Chief Medical Affairs Officer Ken Johnson, D.O.

“Your time at Ohio University is not simply a means to an end. All along the journey, you will change and improve lives, including your own,” said OHIO President Lori Stewart Gonzalez.


A 2023 HCOM graduate receives a hug following the White Coat Ceremony

The Heritage College is the state’s top producer of primary care and rural physicians and the largest medical school in Ohio, with nearly 1,000 students across the college’s three campuses.

“What most people don’t know is that one out of every 14 Ohio physicians holds a professional affiliation with the Heritage College,” said Johnson. “That vast network is going to take you places in the years ahead.”

The ceremony was livestreamed, allowing family and friends to watch remotely. A recording of the ceremony is available to watch on the Heritage College’s website.

August 21, 2023
Staff reports