Wednesday, June 24, 2009

White Coat Ceremonies

Well, considering my dream, and the fact that the Touro White Coat Ceremony is drawing closer, I thought I would research a little more about the ceremony. I was surprised to learn that the ceremony was first performed in 1993, and is now practiced in over 100 medical schools. The idea behind the ceremony is that it lends identity and unity to the profession, and reminds physicians to lead their lives and practice medicine honorably and ethically. The ceremony was founded by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation at Colombia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The foundation sought to focus on medical students and residents so as to positively influence young physicians and instill humanistic principles.

The ceremony itself includes several elements. There is the recitation of a medical oath (Hippocratic, Osteopathic), which represents the public acknowledgment by the students of the responsibilities of the profession and their willingness to assume such obligations in the presence of family, friends, and faculty. Students are cloaked in their first official white coats, there are notable speakers who address ethics and responsibilities in medicine, and after the ceremony there is a reception for the faculty, students, families, and speakers. Some schools also equip students with engraved stethoscopes and White Coat Ceremony pins.

Surprisingly, there is some debate about the benefit of this contemporary tradition - most notably a sense of elitism, premature recitation of the oath and celebration, and encourages antiquated notions such as paternalism. There is a really interesting article by the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics about it. Personally I think sure, it might be a tad elitist, welcoming a select few into the secret doctor world that lay people don't understand, but it'll be fun and is a nice way to encourage camaraderie within the profession. Plus, it's a big deal, starting medical school - I don't see much wrong with celebrating the path we are about to take.

By the way, the Journal of Medical Ethics is FREE and viewable after registering with the website. It has a lot of nice reading material.

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