White Coat Ceremony.
This ceremony is a time of celebration that symbolizes the beginning. Many doctorate programs have white coat ceremonies which include dental and medical school. Each of these fields designate the white coat ceremony as the beginning to a new life and as an introduction to your area of study.
I had my white coat ceremony almost 10 years ago, but I still remember how I felt. I remember looking at my black heels sinking into the grass, as I wore the same dress I had a few months prior at my college graduation. I waited outside the building with my new classmates in a straight line as we waited to enter the building where our ceremony would take place. I remember walking into the room of our white coat ceremony and looking for my family. Once I saw them, I emphatically waved to let them know that I had arrived.
The ceremony began and we listened as our class president read our class decree that we wrote a few days prior that embodied our ideals of what we brought and would take from medical school. Then we waited for each person’s name to be called to go on stage to put on our white coat. I remember the moment when my dean placed my white coat on me one arm at a time. I remember feeling….this is the beginning…I finally made it. My dream of being a doctor was finally here!
I remember thinking about how interesting it was that I just finished college and now I would be starting a new phase of my life. But even in those exciting moments, I felt fearful. I was afraid that I wouldn’t measure up with my classmates who came from elite colleges and were part of a lineage of doctors who came before them. I remember thinking, “Who am I to be here? Did I really deserve this?” These thoughts did not stop at the white coat ceremony, but marinated in my mind throughout medical school.
After the white coat ceremony was over, my parents and I went to the lunch that the school held to honor all the new 1st year medical students. The interesting thing that happened is that the students were then separated from our families. Our family members went on a tour throughout the school, and the students (now my new classmates) sat together for the first time as official medical students. That day I was able to talk to two women who I consider lifelong friends. Several days after that I met another woman who literally the day we first talked, we knew that we would be friends for life and even would be in each other’s weddings.
The white coat ceremony is where so many life events began for me. I think there is something that magically happens on that day. Each year these memories flow back to me when I see the incoming first-year medical students take part in this glorious ceremony. I always think its amazing how the white coats are so clean, unworn, and crisp when the first years receive the symbol of being medical students. As you watch these same students throughout their journey in medical school, you see their white coats transform. Many of times, it becomes dirty, full of books and tools in its pockets with snacks embedded in its crevices, wrinkled losing its crisp appeal when it was first received. As the white coats change, so do the people who wear them. It’s a transformation from medical students to doctors.
My deepest hope is that each first year student holds on to the newness and fascination of medicine. It is important to remember the moments when you see medicine as fun and exciting. You will have lots of hard times that face you in your future, but if you hold on to your memory of when you first put on that white coat, you’ll be able to push through anything.
For all the first year medical and dental students, I wish you a bright, illuminating, and inspiring journey in medicine. I pray that you and your white coat create a beautiful story that will forever change medicine for the good!
Dr. Amber Robins is a board-certified family medicine doctor practicing in Washington, DC, and graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is a recent Health and Media fellow graduate from Georgetown University and PBS News Hour. She is the author and founder of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” and “The Write Prescription: Finding the ‘Right’ Spiritual Dosage to Overcome Any Obstacle” with her own website and blog at www.AmberRobinsMD.com. Her favorite white coat to wear now is a Medelita white coat.