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“Take a deep breath,” alum advises new PA students

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2016 - Spring

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Early in September, just a couple of weeks after entering Yale’s Physician Associate Program, 37 members of the Class of 2018 heard some advice from a member of the Class of 1998.

“Close your eyes and take as deep a breath as you can,” said Jonathan Weber, M.A., P.A.-C. ’98. “Take another deep breath and think about how you are beginning to prepare yourself for some remodeling. Open your eyes again. Take another deep breath and firmly establish your presence here. Today is the kind of intersection in your life where change is inevitable.”

In his keynote address at the White Coat Ceremony for the new class, Weber exhorted the students to practice breathing and make it a calming ritual as they pursue their training and careers. And, he expanded on the major changes to come as they don the white coat, which he called “a special invitation” into their patients’ lives.

“Your personal transition will be significant. Your daily life will change. Your relationships with loved ones will be different,” said Weber, who practices in-patient, primary care, and athletic medicine at the Yale Health Plan. “You are at the door to becoming outstanding health care professionals. You will match your intrinsic talents with one of the world’s deepest needs.”

During their training, Weber said, the students, under tutelage of expert faculty, will become competent, caring health care providers. They will learn to manage a host of changes in their patients’ lives including the sadness that comes from the words, “We’ve run out of options.” They will be judged, he said, not only for their competence, but also for their civility and compassion.

In a humorous aside, he also urged the students to keep the white coat clean and have a spare. “There is nothing that erodes the patient’s sense of confidence in a care provider more than a dirty, disheveled coat that carries bits of your lunch,” he said.

And, he added, it's important to know when to take it off … and take another breath.

“Consider taking it off when you go to the movies, to the beach, or to bed,” he said. “As important as the white coat will be in your life, you need to recognize that the white coat is not your entire life. Remind yourself to take a deep breath each time you put it on or take it off. Use the deep breath as a reminder to invest in something that brings you peace or rejuvenation.”

Earlier in the ceremony, Alexandria Garino, M.S., P.A.-C., interim program director, noted the importance of giving back. That message starts with the ceremony itself. Traditionally, she said, faculty helped the new students don the white coat. Now, she said, second-year students help the incoming students. And, in addition to the white coat, each new student receives another symbol of the health care professions—a stethoscope. This year 16 stethoscopes were gifts from alumni from classes ranging from 1973 to 2015. “These are not ordinary stethoscopes, these are special stethoscopes,” Garino said. “Alumni from as far back as 40 years ago understand the importance of giving back.”

As one alumnus who provided a stethoscope wrote, “This instrument, when used properly as you are trained, will prolong and save lives. Trust in your training—it is the best.”