NEWARK, NJ - As a young boy, Antoine Saint-Victor helped his grandmother with insulin shots for diabetes.
Intrigued by the process, he would always say “I want to be the family doctor,” and has not changed his mind since.
Saint-Victor was one of 178 incoming students who took their ethical oath and put on their white coat for the time as future physicians in the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) class of 2023.
This year’s NJMS class is 51% male, 49% female, speaks 35 languages, come from 17 states and 20 countries. Less than a quarter have racial or ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the medical profession.
White Coat Day is considered a rite of passage in the journey toward a healthcare career.
“The White Coat ceremony is seen as a symbolic event in the life of aspiring physicians,” said Dr. Robert L. Johnson, Dean of the New Jersey Medical School. “A White Coat ceremony emphasizes the importance of compassionate care as well as scientific inquiry.”
For Saint-Victor, born in Newark to Haitian parents and raised in East Orange, his white coat symbolizes his return home and commitment to advocacy through medicine.
During his time as an undergraduate pre-med student at Cornell University, he majored in biology with a concentration in neuroscience and studied French. Countless hours of vigorous studying was the norm, but Saint-Victor was more involved in clubs and activism.
He strived to increase solidarity among black students on campus, aligned himself with student groups different from his own, and learned to be an effective ally.
“I knew my career and what I would like to be but what my actions were at the time, I felt like it was kind of inconsistent, he said. Unsure of how his passion for activism and medicine would mesh, he wondered how the two would coexist.
When the news broke that Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for shooting Michael Brown, students on Cornell’s campus rallied. Shortly after, Saint-Victor saw a group of physicians protesting on the news.
“Physicians were understanding that they can use their voice to speak out against police brutality and the violence against black bodies here in America,” he said.
Black Lives Matter movement was gaining traction and the White Coats for Black Lives movement started shortly thereafter. Saint-Victor knew for sure that his activism had a space in medicine and says he wants to explore more during his time at Rutgers.
“Killing African-Americans in cold blood, for lack of a better phrase is literally anti-health. I can see it being framed as a public health issue,” he said.
After he graduated from Cornell, he spent three years learning about the business side of medicine before applying to medical school.
The journey to his white coat was not rosy. Through challenges and mourning the loss of close loved ones, he still preserved.
At age three, his parents split. His mother, Yolene Baron, became a single parent and worked hard to take care of her son.
“I’ve been working two to three jobs ever since to put him through private school all his life because I want him to be exposed,” said Baron, who has been an X-ray technician for 33 years.
She works at University and Beth Israel hospitals. At one point, she even worked at East Orange General Hospital.
Her son graduated from Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange with a 4.75 GPA and seeing him start his journey to become a medical doctor is a blessing she said.
“He’s the kind of kid that follows his dreams,” said Baron. “Whatever he says he’s going to do, that’s what he’s going to do.”
Saint-Victor knew he wanted to practice medicine in New Jersey so it made sense for him to come back home and be trained at Rutgers, he said.
As a future physician, he wants to go beyond having great one-on-one interactions with patients and advocate for them. He plans to use his voice to provide informed perspectives and influence policy decisions at the local and national level.
“I don’t think I made it here by myself,” said Saint-Victor, citing support from family, teachers, mentors along the way and evoking his spirit of collective responsibility. “So I want to make sure people who look like me have a voice.”