Thomas Zoch, MD, has participated in the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation’s White Coat Campaign for the past few years, sponsoring four students each year. For him, it’s less about the coats, and more about making sure that students feel supported.
Born and raised in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin, Dr. Zoch practiced as an emergency medicine, internal medicine and sports medicine physician for many years before becoming a physician leader as Vice President-Clinical of Care Management for Ascension Wisconsin. He remembers having to purchase his own first coat, which was not an insignificant expense to him at that time. He applauds the Foundation for coordinating physicians from across the state to provide coats and eliminate that expense for the 430 or more medical students beginning school in Wisconsin each year. But it’s about so much more than the coat.
Like many from their generation, Dr. Zoch’s parents did not have the opportunity to attend college, so he felt fortunate to be able to pursue an undergraduate degree. After achieving academic success during the first two years of college, Dr. Zoch remembers being taken aside by the chair of the Biology department who suggested that he consider graduate school. Though he had not previously considered grad school, that conversation inspired him to research the possibilities. Learning more about the medical profession, paired with his innate desire to care for others, clarified his path – and it was all thanks to a few words of encouragement at the right time.
The White Coat Campaign can have a similar impact. Physicians who participate in the campaign donate to cover the cost of a student’s coat and, just as importantly, they write a note of encouragement to the student. The student receives that note along with their white coat as they begin the exciting, yet daunting journey that is medical school.
“The small act of kindness of sharing some words of encouragement can have a profound impact,” said Dr. Zoch. “It says to them “I believe in you” and “you can do this” at a time that may otherwise be a bit overwhelming.”
Participating in the White Coat Campaign is part of Dr. Zoch and his wife Suzanne’s philosophy of caring and compassion for patients and colleagues and their desire to give back to the profession. They feel blessed and are passionate about helping others. In addition to supporting medical students through the White Coat Campaign, Dr. and Mrs. Zoch have established a scholarship fund with his alma mater, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and his high school. He is also a volunteer faculty member with Medical College of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“I have never taken education for granted and am always ready to learn,” said Dr. Zoch. “As a medical student, the short coat signified to me that I had much to learn and achieving the long coat didn’t mean that the learning was over. I continue to learn from the physicians, nurses and others on our health care teams daily—and that’s just how it should be.”