The journey began with 124 white coats.
Joyful and eager, first-year medical students at Washington University School in Medicine in St. Louis received their white coats Friday, Oct. 27, marking a symbolic rite of passage signifying their entry into the medical profession.
Jennifer Yu, MD, an abdominal transplant surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, reassured the students not to worry if their white coats fit loosely. “I remember mine was a little too big and a little too starchy, yet that in its own way was so fitting, the ultimate moment of clarity,” said Yu during her keynote address at the White Coat Ceremony, at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on the Medical Campus. “Training to become a physician is an adventure that we all grow into.”
Yu received her white coat in 2008. “Starting from the very first patient you meet while wearing this coat, you will touch the lives of dozens, hundreds, thousands of others,” said Yu, who earned her medical degree in 2012 and a master’s degree in population health sciences in 2015, both from Washington University. “You will pledge today to act with compassion, to honor what life means to another person, and to work toward making this world a better place for all. While you wear these coats, you will hold someone’s hand as they take their first breath and perhaps someone’s as they take their last breath. This white coat is the manifestation of a promise, both to yourself and to your patients, that you will always keep trying, keep learning and keep growing.”
The students made similar promises in the class oath they wrote and tailored to their ethics, values and goals. “May these pledges serve as the foundation of my continuous growth in medicine,” they recited in unison while wearing their new white coats. “May I find joy and hope in healing. May I uplift the health, happiness and humanity of those I serve.”
The White Coat Ceremony is a favorite medical student milestone of David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor. “The White Coat Ceremony is a beginning, a moment in time when inspiration and aspiration meet, when every door is open to you and you need only to approach each door with curiosity and courage and, probably, a great deal of caffeine,” he told the students. “Today you are on the cusp of something amazing. It is an honor to be here at the beginning of so many incredible journeys, at the beginning of what will be your professional life, your life so noble because of its purpose.”
First-year student Sophia Kamanzi wore her white coat with the intent to serve the community and work toward eliminating health disparities both broadly and in St. Louis along the Delmar Divide, a term describing the contrast in resources, life expectancies and health outcomes that exists north and south of Delmar Boulevard. “Having grown up just outside of St. Louis, I am deeply invested in the health of the city, and I am honored to have the opportunity to serve a community I view as my own. To me, my white coat is an opportunity to uplift the voices of those who are often ignored by the system and work toward equitable health care for all.”
For first-year student Nicholas Speller, his white coat represents his desire to harness his background in technology to develop innovative solutions to complex problems within the medical field that will directly impact health outcomes of patients globally. “My white coat means the achievement of a childhood dream three decades in the making and the opportunity to increase diversity within medicine by increasing representation, mentorship and education, and improving health equity and justice.”
Photos by Matt Miller. Click to enlarge.