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”.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Dear colleagues, let me introduce to you: your first white coat. Brand new, tailored for your size, just came out the plastic bag – it is a pretty cool object to own. Let me assure you it is far more than that. This inanimate, fairly non-complex thing will soon become an integral part of you. It will determine greatly how you see the world and how the world sees you, even when you are not actually wearing the white coat.
First of all it is a symbol. It is a symbol of relying on scientific evidence for patient treatment, symbol of honesty and respect, symbol of healing, of trust, of being non-judgmental and accepting. Whatever specialty you choose, everyday you will be dealing with people. Many of those who will come to seek your help will do it on the worst days of their lives. Yes, they will be angry, upset, confused, tearful and cranky and from this day on, you no longer get to turn and walk away or let them figure it out on their own. They will be there to see you, not you as a person, but as someone who wears the white coat, thus capable of making things better…
Because you white coat is also a shining armor that was strengthened by the reputation and effort of multiple generations. This armor will make you stronger than disease, often, but not always stronger than death. You can hide your fear behind the white coat, it is ok. You’ll learn how to ask uncomfortable questions and how to deliver terrifying news. And you will have many opportunities to be scared: your first day of rotations, your first delivery, the first: “Doctor, what do you want to do?” from a nurse. And, believe me, you will hear these words much earlier than you expect…
And, of course, the white coat is a magic cape. It makes hearts beat faster, it suddenly makes it ok for people to discuss most personal things with you, they will believe in your superpowers, because I don’t know how otherwise explain the call from my former co-worker with a request to cure his dog’s arthritis.
Some may say that this white coat is short, because our knowledge is not so impressive yet. Perhaps, but I view it as foundation. We have not build a house yet, but the moment this white coat touches your shoulders – you’ve started. And when you see your first patient at your preceptors office, remember that although you don’t have the letters MD after your name yet, you, just like, your preceptor, have an obligation to be respectful, empathic and knowledgeable.
So, do you feel those butterflies in the stomach? It is a great feeling, so hold on to it. It is similar to falling in love. You are starting a relationship that is going to last a life time. It is going to have ups and downs, routine, exasperation and fatigue, but stay determined and work for it. Stay motivated, true and inspired. You are in one of the most exciting professional fields. And I know you have dreamt about it for a very long time. Today, finally, it is official. Congratulations!
Katya Jordan, MS3