White coat ceremonies for new medical students
- Imperial College School of Medicine, University of London
Earlier this year I attended my first white coat ceremony for incoming medical students. So impressed was I by the event that I feel impelled— almost duty bound—to spread the word, for few outside the USA are likely to have heard of these ceremonies.
Essentially they are a rite of passage, welcoming the new medical student into the medical profession, albeit as a student member. They occur right at the beginning of the medical course before the students have taken any lectures or laboratory classes, and the students' families and friends are invited by the medical school to attend. The students are congratulated on their achievement in being selected as medical students, and told about the commitment that, as student doctors, they are making both to becoming and staying proficient in the science and technique of medicine and also to the human obligations of being a doctor—especially to the central obligation of caring for their patients. (The brochure at the ceremony I attended quoted from an eminent American physician of the 1930s, William Peabody: “The secret of caring for the patient ........ is caring for the patient”!—not a bad message on its own for the new medical student to take away). A physician with some special interest and/or skill in medical humanities then gives a lecture, welcoming the new students and emphasising the importance of the human side of medicine and the importance of integrating this into the science and technology of medical practice.
In the ceremony I attended, after all, including the medical faculty, had taken their seats in the auditorium everyone stood as the new students were led in procession to take their seats. A doctor who had graduated from that …