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A call to professionalism

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2005 - Autumn


As 100 new medical students begin their education, a physician defines the principles of their calling.

At the beginning of the White Coat Ceremony in August, Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., assured the 100 members of the Class of 2009 that they were where they belong. “The admissions committee did not make any careless errors in admitting you to our medical school,” he told the crowd in Harkness Auditorium. “If we do our jobs, and you do yours, years from now students will walk these halls wondering if they belong in the same institution as the Class of 2009.”

Before they received their white coats, keynote speaker David L. Coleman, M.D., HS ’80, professor and interim chair of medicine, noted that the ceremony started in this country in 1993 as an effort to “acknowledge the professional ideals that are the essence of being a physician.

“Professionalism,” Coleman continued, “drives how we live, how we aspire and how we learn. … I have come to believe that it is the inseparable weaving of scientific discipline with humanism that is at the core of professionalism. We cannot and will not be humane physicians without employing science. And we cannot and will not be medically competent physicians without employing humanism.”

The principles of professionalism rest on the pillars of nonmalevolence, beneficence, patient autonomy, justice, inquisitiveness, competence and teaching, Coleman said. They require, among other things, that physicians do no harm, advocate on behalf of patients rather than themselves, strive to do good, respect decisions made by patients and seek equity and justice in the delivery of care. “It should deeply bother everyone in this room that 48 million Americans are without some form of health insurance,” he said.

In concluding, Coleman cautioned the students to prepare to make sacrifices. “Medicine will require a great deal from each of you, and very importantly, it will give back a great deal to each of you,” he said. “If you can find your balance while fulfilling the ideals of professionalism, you will attain the immeasurable and enduring rewards that your new profession offers. I hope your white coat will always inspire your aspirations and your ideals, from this day forward.”