The 126 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2017 received the symbol of the medical profession at the White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Sept. 20, officially beginning their educational journey at UMass Medical School. Speakers warned them about the symbolic power of the coat, and offered a reminder that personal connections are an essential part of the doctor-patient relationship.
“We have to be advocates. We can’t be advocates if we don’t know our patients,” said Oscar E. Starobin, MD, professor of medicine and 2012 recipient of the Chancellor’s Medal for Clinical Excellence. “Medicine is entirely personal. That’s the way we learn what the issues and problems are and how we are going to help solve them.”
Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medicine, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, spoke of his first childhood memory of a white coat, worn by his pediatrician, Thomas J. Garvey. He remembered Dr. Garvey as a seven-foot-tall, larger-than-life, influential role model from his youth. But when he met him many years later in a social setting, he was surprised to discover his idol, still fit into his 70s, was actually much shorter.
“This man was able to be both a great physician in the white coat, my Dr. Garvey, and a healthy well-balanced human being not wearing the white coat, the rejuvenated 70ish Tom Garvey that I met as an adult,” said Flotte. “So just remember that we are so privileged to wear the white coat to be invited into the lives of our patients and their families. But one more thing to remember is that the coat can come off. Tom Garvey learned that, and I am still trying to learn it myself.”
“In your white coat, you will be remembered for who you are, and what you do. Your patients will remember things about you and your visits that you will have long ago forgotten,” said David Hatem, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine and Learning Communities co-leader.
Dr. Hatem called attention to the pockets on the new coats.
“Members of last year’s graduating class have donated these coats, a tradition of passing important things down from one class to another,” he said. “They have left a note in the pocket. Read it. They are with you, they are behind you, supporting you.”
Students had the assistance of two people as they were robed in their white coats: A person chosen by the student, and a Learning Community mentor. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the class recited an oath written by the Class of 2015, symbolizing the interclass partnership central to the Learning Communities.
A relatively new tradition for medical students, the White Coat Ceremony was started in 1993 by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. The tradition emphasizes the importance of both scientific excellence and compassionate care for the patient, according to the foundation.
Related link on UMassMedNow:Symbolism on stage as students receive white coats