My Message to the Class of 2016
Aug 19, 2012 1:00 PM
To the SOM Class of 2016: (excerpts from my remarks at the White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 17, 2012)
With this white coat, you are being welcomed into our profession of physicians. You are taking the first step toward a transformation that involves much more than just assimilating the vast amount of information you will need to practice medicine and conduct research. As pediatrician and author Perri Klass has written in her book, Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor, becoming a physician involves assimilating responsibility and making what we can only call life and death part of your daily routine. When you come out of this training, you will in some sense divide the world into doctors and non-doctors. You will identify as yourself as a doctor.
These white coats are strongly symbolic. They readily identify you as someone who can be trusted. The white coat invites patients to share with you some of the most private and intense moments of their lives. Therefore, it is your responsibility during the course of the next four years, and all throughout your lives, to do your very best to earn this trust.
I encourage you to think of your white coat as a bridge to patients, and not a barrier. Be sensitive to the anxiety that some people also feel when they encounter the white coat. As Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe has shown, as many as 10-15% of those diagnosed with hypertension are actually normotensive, but just experience the “White Coat Syndrome” anxiety from the encounter. As pediatrician, ethicist and former White Coat Ceremony speaker Dr. Margaret Mohrmann has said, “keep your white coats unbuttoned, and keep your hearts as open as your coats.”
The white coat, like a laboratory coat, is also a reminder that our profession is rooted in science. Medical decisions should be scientifically derived, evidence based and rational. Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen exponential growth in the body of knowledge we have available to us as physicians. This abundance of information helps guide our decisions, and it is our responsibility as physicians to apply this knowledge wisely.
Our most important goal for you over the next four years is to nurture a thirst for knowledge. Because as challenging as it will be to learn what we teach you in medical school, the body of knowledge you will need to be an effective physician will continue to grow and even greater discoveries will be made during your careers. It is this thirst for knowledge—not the desire to ace your next exam—that will make you be the best doctors you can be.
Finally, realize these coats are only one aspect of your identity. Underneath your coat you are, and always will be, human. You will have lives outside of medicine. Let me emphasize this: you should have lives outside of medicine. Your families and friends will be strong supporters during this period of transformation. Think of them. Remember their kindness and support.
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