Last week was the White Coat Ceremony at Baylor College of Medicine. As part of the ceremony, several upper classmen are asked to address the entering class, speeches that we call “Thoughts from the White Coat Pocket”.
When I think back about my white coat ceremony 4 years ago, I remember being really worried about what outfit I was going to wear that day. I went through every tie and shirt combination at least 10 times. Eventually I just decided this occasion was too big of a deal and went out and bought a brand new outfit…which I never wore again. I must have taken a million pictures in it…I mean I needed just the right lighting, a smile that said “I’m a professional young doctor with a great bedside manner but could also be an extra on a daytime soap opera,” and if I cropped the picture just right you couldn’t even tell it was a short white coat. Admittedly, it was my Facebook picture for almost a year, marking the beginning of a great journey. Little did I know that both the pristine, little white coat and I would never be the same.
See the funny thing about the white coat is that it changes just as much as you do during medical school. I remember the first day of preceptor for PPS1. I was so proud to wear it. To my shock and horror, that same day a 15 year old boy with a bad stomach bug would defile my coat. I scrubbed it, took it to the dry cleaners, and yes even sent it to my mother. The coat was clean, but something felt different about it…the coat had changed…I had changed. It no longer represented the promise of clinics. It had seen it’s first battle with disease and survived, and a part of me was proud of that.
My little white coat would not see battle again until my second year during my first day of clinics. I woke up that morning and had my best friend take once again a million pictures for Facebook. It was that year that the coat and I transformed again. It was no longer a symbol but rather a tool that I could not live without. During my internal medicine rotation, it held my books, my stethoscope, my penlight, and my history and physicals as I anxiously waited to present. During surgery it held my trauma sheers, bandages, and my granola bar to get me through heart transplants. During psych, it distinguished me from the patients so they didn’t put me away! I couldn’t live without it and a part of me didn’t want to think of a world where I didn’t have 4 massive pockets. True story – I once put a Venti iced coffee in the pocket of my white coat and walked from BCM to Ben Taub with no spillage….these coats are indestructible!
Then something happened this year. I started my sub-intern month on the brink of being an MS4 and decided to leave my coat in the team room. These were MY patients, I was the acting intern and I needed to go into battle without my security blanket. The white coat and I grew apart…and I started needing it less and less. This trend continued as I began my fourth year and started taking more responsibility for my patients. Suddenly the coat felt too small, it could hold my stethoscope and my books, but it could not hold all the responsibilities I was going to face next year.
I will always be grateful to my short white coat. This is a very important day for all of you, take care of your coats and remember what they stand for. When you wear them you are representing BCM and all the generations of amazing physicians this school has produced. And when you get to your fourth year and feel those pockets getting heavier, when your coat feels small and you are ready to take on the challenges and joys of being a first year doctor…that’s when you know you are ready for the long coat.
Welcome to the family BCM class of 2015 and Congratulations!
Tony Pastor, MS4