Each morning as I arrive at the office or the hospital, I don my white coat as a matter of habit. For over twenty years I have done this, never having any thought about the symbolism or the significance of this act; that is until recently.
As President of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, I was honored to be part of a recent White Coat Ceremony. Doctor Arnold Gold*, a pediatric neurologist, began the White Coat Ceremony at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993. He felt students should take the Hippocratic Oath (now the Declaration of Geneva) and be welcomed to the medical profession upon entry into medical school, not upon graduation. The White Coat, the symbol of our profession, would be given to each student during a formal rite of passage. In a few years, the concept spread to over 100 medical schools; now, the ceremony welcomes incoming students at medical schools in 14 countries. Dr. Gold deeply valued the humanistic side of medicine. To Dr. Gold, the white coat is our profession's "Cloak of Compassion." He envisioned a ceremony that would emphasize the values of caring and compassion so integral to the patient /physician relationship.
The GLMS and GLMS Foundation sponsor the White Coat Ceremony at The University of Louisville School of Medicine. As I told the incoming students, because GLMS is a membership organization and the Foundation is supported by donations from physicians, their white coats were in effect given to them by local physicians to welcome them to our community and our great profession.
The smiles and looks of pride were visible on the students' faces, and were mirrored on the ebullient faces of their beaming parents and friends. To the new class, the white coat has a special meaning. It is an acknowledgement of their intelligence and hard work that have brought them to the threshold of their medical education. It's a symbol of everything that they will stand for in the years to come. It is an honor only a select few earn.
After a white coat had been placed by a dean or faculty member onto each student, all then recited the Declaration of Geneva, which makes clear that wearing the white coat brings not only honor but responsibility and obligations. As I listened to the oath I appreciated the awesome privilege and responsibility each of us have in caring for our fellow human beings. I encourage each of you to read the oath and embrace the concepts embodied.
In a world where the practice of medicine has become less personal, more technology driven and increasingly defined by non-physicians, my wish is that each day, when each of us puts on the white coat ( if only metaphorically for some) we shall practice medicine the way we envisioned it the day we first wore it. Since we started medical school we now truly appreciate both the privilege and responsibility of caring for our fellow human beings. Even within the hustle of our ever busier schedules, we shall wear our white coats with that same pride and humanism that was the dream of Dr. Gold, and the reality for the entering class of 2018 at their white coat ceremony.
Declaration of Geneva
At the time of being admitted as a member of the medical profession, I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity.
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets which are confided in me;
I will maintain by all the means in my power the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
My colleagues will be my brothers and sisters;
I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, gender, politics, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.
I make those promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.
* Dr. Arnold Gold started the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1994. The Gold Foundation continues to support White Coat Ceremonies around the world. Dr. Scott had the pleasure to serve with Dr. Gold on the American Medical Association Foundation Board of Directors. Dr. Gold remains dedicated to the professionalism and humanity of medicine.
Bruce A. Scott, MD