“I would like to thank all of the family members and friends who came as guests of our charter class. We know for many of you it was a long trip, but we are so happy you were able to make the journey to witness this event,” said Cynda Ann Johnson, M.D., M.B.A., president and founding dean of the school.
The White Coat Ceremony is a relatively new tradition. The first ceremony was held at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1993, with the support of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The purpose of the ceremony is to clarify for students, prior to their entrance into the medical community that a physician’s responsibility is to both take care of patients and also to care for patients. In other words, doctors should care as well as cure.
Bertram Spetlzer, M.D., was the event’s keynote speaker. He encouraged students to keep three A’s in mind while helping patients: ability, availability, and affability. Dr. Spetzler knows the value of those characteristics from both perspectives as a doctor and as a patient after a traumatic cycling accident. (Read Dr. Spetzler's entire speech by clicking here.)
“It was a special feeling to put on a white coat, hang a stethoscope around my neck and walk into the hospital. There was also a sense of trepidation, fear of making an error or fool of myself,” Dr. Spetzler recalled from when he first put on a white coat during medical school. “I knew, and you know, that this coat represents the start of a pathway. A pathway requiring perseverance and humility. But the coat also represents something to the patient and the larger community. They see it as a sign of ability and expertise. You will have to grow into the coat. To be a physician is an incredible honor, an enormous responsibility, caring for the most intimate aspects of a person: his or her health. What a rewarding career it is to be a physician. In terms of personal satisfaction, there is none greater than being able to help another human being.”
The school's faculty encouraged the charter class to keep the responsibilities that come with wearing a white coat in mind while preparing for the ceremony. In response, the group wrote essays about what receiving a white coat means to them. The dean shared some excerpts from the papers.
“It was a goal for our leadership team that this White Coat Ceremony would not merely be a celebratory event or photo-op. We hoped to convey the significance of what wearing a white coat means to our patients and the community. In keeping with that spirit, our students wrote essays describing what receiving a white coat means to them,” stated Dean Johnson. “As I read their essays, I was filled with emotions – from almost a haunting feeling to tears and laughter. Not surprising several themes emerged.” Dean Johnson shared excerpts from essays that echoed six themes including: The White Coat as Tangible and Intangible, Personal Stories, Honoring the Past, Humanism, the Role of VTC, and the Patient Care Experience from Today Forward.
In addition, the charter class wrote eleven “Guiding Principles” that each student will use to frame how they interact in the medical community during their time at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Matthew Joy, student class president, represented the charter class by coming to the podium to read the principles aloud.
Mark Greenawald, M.D., associate dean for student affairs, led the class in reciting the Hippocratic Oath before calling each individually to sign an oath book, representing their commitment to upholding the Hippocratic Oath and Guiding Principles. Then leaders presented students with a white coat as well as a “Humanism in Medicine” pin from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.