Six years ago, alumnus Nicholas P.R. Spinelli, M.D. ’44, donated 100 starched white coats to the School of Medicine, beginning a tradition at Yale shared by medical schools around the country.

In late August, during their orientation as first-year medical students, members of the Class of 2002 picked up the threads of that rite of passage. Under a tent on Harkness lawn the 102 entering students joined in a ceremony that welcomed them to medicine and underscored the responsibility that accompanies the donning of the white coat. One by one, faculty members helped them into a garment laden with significance—both for their families in the audience and for the patients they will encounter in the coming four years and beyond.

“The white coat that you will be given this afternoon represents a way of life,” said Dean David A. Kessler, M.D. “You will confront real challenges—life and death—in that coat. In essence, from today forward, you will always be wearing it, even if it’s just hanging in the closet. It is a symbol of what you do.”

Among those joining Dean Kessler in presenting the coats were newly appointed associate dean of students Nancy R. Angoff, M.P.H. ’81, M.D. ’90, HS ’90-93, and Joseph Warshaw, M.D., deputy dean for clinical affairs. Chaplain Alan C. Mermann, M.D., and associate dean Merle Waxman described the school’s code of conduct and urged students to seek companionship and encouragement from their classmates. More than a dozen alumni were in attendance.

“For the next four years you will be immersed in learning the science and art of medicine,” said Dr. Warshaw. “The Yale tradition is one in which the students take a large part of the responsibility for their education. The goal of education at Yale is to provide the broadest scientific and medical foundation possible to prepare you for whatever area you choose.”

Deputy Dean for Education Robert H. Gifford, M.D., HS ’67, called the ceremony “an occasion to underscore the significance of your entry into a profession where dedication, compassion and caring for others must be at the core of your very existence. Each of you possesses those qualities because that is what caught our eye.”