The White Coat Ceremony is a relatively recent tradition, which has, in a short time, taken on considerable prestige and honor at the majority of U.S. allopathic medical schools and even some international medical institutions.
It was established by Dr. Arnold Gold at Columbia University Medical School in 1993. It was designed to impress upon students, physicians and the public the important symbolic role of the white coat in patient-doctor interactions. Gold argued that students were reciting the Hippocratic Oath four years too late-upon their graduation from medical school. He felt the oath and the conferring of white coats would be better done at the start of medical school, when students receive their first exposure to clinical medicine. The White Coat Ceremony provides a mechanism by which values that are key to our profession can be openly articulated and carefully considered in the company of peers, parents, partners and faculty.
With mine less than a month away, I’ve reflected on the humanistic values that such a ceremony attempts to, not instill, but remind students of as they start the journey towards a career of caring. No one leaves a medical school interview without saying, “I want to help people.” However, I would like to elaborate on my view of the situation.
I want to help people, but there are limitless ways of doing that. At the time I decided I wanted to be a physician I was set in the most careless, spoiled city in the country — Los Angeles. As well I was set to enter the pettiest, self-centered profession in that city — Hollywood. I went out looking for ways I might contribute to the betterment of life and considered a number of paths however, when I saw that first surgery, I was sure that this was the most amazing, jaw dropping way of aiding your fellow man that any person could undertake. This little girl, with the VSD and narrow aorta, would die without this surgeon. If she lived, every moment from then on, all the good she did with her life — raising a family, building a better light bulb — all the people she touched, those moments in time and accomplishments could be traced back to this surgeon and these nurses and everyone who helped her achieve such by giving her the gift of life.
It was a contribution that would grow exponentially as this little girl would age. It is something I wanted to be a part of.