The mantle of the medical profession, the white coat, took center stage on Thursday, Sept. 16, during the Medical School’s inaugural White Coat Ceremony. First-year School of Medicine students heard about the important symbolism of the white coat before taking to the stage, one by one, to allow their Learning Community mentors to help them into this universal identifier of the medical profession, officially starting their challenging educational journey.
“That coat has some pretty incredible, almost magical properties,” said keynote speaker Jordan M. Cohen, MD, professor of medicine and public health at George Washington University and president emeritus of the Association of American Medical Colleges. One of those magical properties is the ability to engender trust from patients. But, he warned, “Trust is earned, not owed. Merely putting on that white coat does not entitle you, ipso facto, to be trusted. It is what you do with that coat that matters.”
School of Medicine Dean Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor in Medicine, and provost and executive deputy chancellor, recounted a personal story of his own mother’s death, where he—once considered the baby in his family of five children—became the source of strength and comfort for his siblings in his role as doctor. “The white coat has been called the mantle of the healer, but it is more than that. It is the token of the sacred trust and the sacred duty to be what your patients and their families need you to be in those difficult moments,” he said.
“Wear your white coat not as a cover to hide your humanity, but as an opportunity to reveal your compassion,” said Dr. Cohen.
The White Coat Ceremony is a new event for UMass Medical School—and a relatively new tradition at most other medical schools. The Arnold P. Gold Foundation initiated the first White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 20, 1993, at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, and today 90 percent of medical schools host similar events.
The white coats themselves were donated to the entering class by the Class of 2010 in a symbolic “passing of the torch” to the next generation of medical students. Each coat was embroidered with the student’s name, a personal touch funded by the Worcester District Medical Society Alliance. And at the ceremony, each student was also given a pin representing one of five houses in the Learning Community, an important feature of the new curriculum structure that began with this year’s class.