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White Coat ceremony kicks off Bicentennial

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2011 - Autumn


Becoming a doctor requires a thirst for lifelong learning, a commitment to competence, and compassion for the patient.

The annual White Coat ceremony in Harkness Auditorium in August was the inaugural event of the School of Medicine’s yearlong Bicentennial celebration, and Dean Robert Alpern, M.D., jokingly warned the first-year students that this wasn’t the last they would hear of it. “When Yale has a bicentennial celebration, it lasts a long, long time,” he said.

Before the 100 members of the Class of 2014 donned their waist-length coats, Eve R. Colson, M.D. ’89, associate professor of pediatrics, said in her keynote speech that the garments are “an international symbol” of taking on obligations. Colson, director of pediatric clerkships, said that becoming a doctor requires a thirst for lifelong learning, an avoidance of conflicts of interest, an ability to own up to mistakes, and a strong desire to put the patient's needs above everything else.

“A lot of responsibility comes with that white coat,” she said. It demands a commitment to competence as well as compassion for the patient. Offering a fictional example of someone who has competence but lacks compassion, Colson noted that the title character in the hit television series House M.D. “is an outstanding diagnostician, but he is a lousy doctor.”

Entering medical school, she continued, is a time of transition. “You may feel unsure, and likely your family is feeling the same,” Colson said. Akash Gupta, one of the new students, found those words prescient when he put on his coat. “I feel like I should feel different, but then I don’t, and I feel insecure,” he said after the ceremony. “I feel I don’t deserve to wear it yet.”

As the members of the class took the stage to don their coats with the bicentennial insignia emblazoned on the shoulder, each also received a stethoscope from Harold Bornstein Jr., M.D. ’53, president of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine, or vice president Christine A. Walsh, M.D. ’73. The stethoscopes are gifts from alumni and the School of Medicine Alumni Fund.

The class, selected from a pool of 4,300 applicants, includes 12 graduates of Yale College. The students have “an extraordinary array of accomplishments,” including 14 advanced degrees, said admissions director Richard A. Silverman.

“I can assure you that your acceptance was not a careless error,” Alpern said. “We have enormous confidence in you. … Today is a momentous day in the evolution of your becoming a physician.”

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