White Coats for the Class of 2024, at Last!
The White Coat Ceremony traditionally signifies the beginning of a medical student’s journey to becoming a full-fledged physician. But the pandemic made gathering for such an occasion in August 2020 impossible. As a result, the Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 went without a White Coat Ceremony.
Until April 1, 2022, when, at long last, the members of the Class of 2024 entered the Temple Performing Arts Center in a procession, with family and friends filling the seats in the large auditorium around them -- and more than 250 viewers watching the livestream of the long-awaited event on the school’s YouTube channel.
“Class of 2024, thank you for waiting so patiently for this ceremony,” said Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, Interim Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
The greeting was met with loud applause.
The dean noted to all in attendance that the Class of 2024 is about to make a significant transition in its medical education, from didactics to patient care. The white coat is the very symbol of patient care -- so despite the disappointment of delay, the White Coat ceremony comes on the precipice of “the moment you’ve been waiting for,” she said
“I encourage you to revel in the experiences you’re going to have these next two years,” she said. “Be a sponge. Absorb everything. And do not underestimate the impact you will have. Patients will see you in that white coat and see you as their doctor.”
To underscore her point, Dr. Goldberg shared an essay written by a medical student about her first few days of patient care. On her first night on call, she was asked to draw blood from a patient with advanced glioblastoma multiforme. The patient did not wake when the student entered the room, but the student talked to her anyway, mostly to calm her own nerves.
This continued for days, the patient not waking, the student talking to her anyway. Finally, one night, the patient’s eyes shot open, and her lips began to quiver.
“You talked to me,” the patient said. “The others thought I was fat and ugly. That I could not hear. Not you. You talked and I heard.”
With that, she fell back to sleep.
“This story was published in JAMA on March 4, 1983, nearly 40 years ago. But it could happen today,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Medicine changes, but one thing never does: the deep human core in all of us that needs human connection, needs human touch.”
Two members of the Class of 2024 were invited onstage to share their reflections on the white coat.
Lisa Liu admitted she sometimes feels “like a nuisance” walking around the hospital because she’s not capable of helping as much as she wants to -- yet. The white coat will help remind her that she’s working toward becoming “the kind of physician whose patients are free to ask questions that have been on their minds. A physician who will do her very best.”
Ms. Liu’s classmate, Lauren Sanchez, spoke next.
“The white coat is my family legacy,” she said.
Her father’s grandparents were both doctors in Cuba. And her mother is a doctor.
“To me, the white coat means making patients feel so comfortable and safe in your presence that they’ll approach you in a store,” as they often approached Ms. Sanchez’s mother, with her young daughter observing closely from her side.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, who graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in 2000. Dr. Maybank is the Chief Health Equity Officer and Senior Vice President for the American Medical Association and leads its Center for Health Equity.
The last two years have unmoored all of us, she said. The Class of 2024 will find it difficult to separate the pandemic from their medical school experience. But she cautioned them to not be so quick to do so.
“As soon-to-be physicians, these moments will shape you in ways you do not fully realize, along with all of life’s experiences,” Dr. Maybank said.
For proof, she described an episode from her own medical training. As a resident in New York City, she saw patients every Thursday at a clinic in a disadvantaged neighborhood. On one occasion, she was struck by the physical size of the family in front of her. The two children were each around 240 pounds, and their mother was morbidly obese. Their records indicated that weight-loss intervention had been recommended. Dr. Maybank created a treatment plan that focused on eating healthier foods and being more active. She also asked the family to come in weekly for weight checks. The mother, she says, was committed. She returned week after week with her kids, but no one was losing any weight. She also met each of Dr. Maybank’s suggestions with concern. She couldn’t afford fresh fruit and veggies. And the violence in their neighborhood was so bad, she wasn’t comfortable sending her kids outside to play.
“I realized my ignorance and arrogance and the system’s ignorance and arrogance,” Dr. Maybank said. “Where my patients lived had way more influence over their health than I did.”
To help the Class of 2024 avoid making the same mistake, she asked them to “consider four possibilities:” First, be humble. Second, develop a critical consciousness that seeks truth in all its complexity. “You’re going to be asked to take histories of your patients,” she said. “I challenge you to know the histories of the neighborhoods you’re serving too.” Third, don’t overlook the people who have historically been rendered invisible. “Seek different truths,” Dr. Maybank said. “Your advocacy is credible and crucial.” Finally, give yourself permission to feel, acknowledging that being a physician is as “grueling” as it is rewarding.For the coating portion of the ceremony, faculty lined the stage to help the students don their white coats. One by one, the students’ names were called. Some were accompanied onstage by a parent or sibling who had graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine or who has served as a faculty member, present or past. In those instances, the relative assisted with the donning of the coat.
The process repeated itself again and again, with 15 students at a time stretching the width of the stage, until the whole Class of 2024 was coated. At which point, they all faced the audience, which met them with a standing ovation.
Class members then recited in unison the Declaration of Geneva and their class pledge before dispersing to their own private celebrations and the next phase of their journey.