The White Coat Ceremony

21 January 2015
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I am writing this blog as I wanted to share my experience of attending a White Coat ceremony for the St George's International Medical School as the invited speaker to their intake of 2015 in Northumbria. I felt honored to be invited but daunted at the same time as I looked at the list of distinguished past keynote speakers.

The White Coat Ceremony is an event put on by medical schools around the US is to indoctrinate its new students into the world of medicine by providing the students with the ultimate symbol of doctoring, the white coat.

white coat ceremony

The white coat is symbolic and dressing the students from the podium in their white coats brought with it a sense of responsibility and pride in admitting a student to the medical profession from us faculty members. Afterward, the class recited the Hippocratic pledge of honor declaring loyalty and passion toward medicine and patients, along with professional and academic duties as students.

In 1993, The Arnold P. Gold Foundation founded The White Coat Ceremony at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, where Dr. Arnold Gold had been a teacher and pediatric neurologist for more than forty years. Dr. Gold believed they should take the Oath when they begin medical school, following the model of Hippocrates who administered an oath to students before their medical studies began.

The Hippocratic Oath, a seminal document on the ethics of medical practice, was attributed to Hippocrates in antiquity although new information shows it may have been written after his death. While the Oath is rarely used in its original form today, it serves as a foundation for other, similar oaths and laws that define good medical practice and morals.

Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice. It recommended that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious.
Hippocrates is credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods. He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.

I stated to the students that the latest international labour organisation definition of the role of a medical doctor is as follows -

Medical doctors diagnose and treat human physical and mental illnesses, disorders and injuries, and recommend preventive action, based on the scientific principles of modern medicine. They may specialise in certain disease categories or methods of treatment, or assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families and communities. The consensus statement concludes that doctors "alone amongst healthcare professionals must be capable of regularly taking ultimate responsibility" for clinical decisions.

Embarking on a career in Medicine which needs to be seen as a vocation also requires a certain mindset that involves realistic optimism to deal with the challenges in order to achieve and to grow resilience. To view the training ahead as a learning journey to arrive at the final destination will allow for value to all the experiences to be had both good and bad.There is the need to always learn, improve, and research in Medicine and persistently strive to be better – in all facets of patient care.

Do we need a White Coat ceremony here in UK medical schools to visit the ethics of medical practice at the start of the medical career? I came away uplifted by the enthusiasm and excitement of these new medical students embarking on their medical careers and enjoyed the celebration.


BerylDeSouza120Dr Beryl De Souza

Medical Women's Federation
Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765

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