The 162 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2022 at UMass Medical School donned their white coats for the first time in a heartfelt ceremony on Friday, Sept. 14, under a tent on the campus green, as the first-year medical students accepted the mantel of the medical profession.
“The white coat is a symbol of the service that I will be giving my patients,” said Olivia Mandile, SOM ’22, of Webster and a member of the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health track (PURCH) “As a woman, not all the doctors I’ve had have looked like me, and it means a lot to me to be a part of this legacy.”
Keynote speaker Robert Quinlan, MD, professor of surgery and recipient of the 2017 Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Clinical Excellence, urged students to follow in the footsteps of Arnold P. Gold, MD, the Columbia University Medical Center pediatric neurologist who dedicated his life to compassionate patient care. Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Gold, who created a namesake foundation to inspire young physicians to take a humane approach to patient-centered care, held the first White Coat ceremony at Columbia. Gold died in January at age 92.
“Dr. Gold and his colleagues at Columbia made a decision to bring back caring, collaborative compassionate communication to the bedside and keep excellent science and technology in the conversation,” Dr. Quinlan said. “Gold and his wife, Sandra, partnered with Columbia to create the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1988. Dr. Gold’s plan was to educate medical students at the earliest time in their careers.”
Quinlan noted the White Coat Ceremony will be held in approximately 160 medical schools in the United States and abroad this year.
At UMass Medical School, the white coat is placed upon each student’s shoulders by individuals who represent the value system of the school and the new profession into which these students are about to enter. Each student is cloaked by her or his Learning Community mentor and an individual significant in his or her personal or professional development.
“I think the white coat gives your patients a symbol that they can trust you and have their best interests at heart,” said Connie Ge, SOM ’22, of Houston. “I think there’s a power differential between people who work in health care and their patients. It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact the patient by thinking about the patient first and trying to support them rather than using the power in another way.”
Chancellor Michael F. Collins said the event emphasizes the importance of scientific excellence and compassionate care for the patient.
“To wear this white coat means you have chosen to dedicate your lives to the needs of others,” said Chancellor Collins. “As stewards of this great public medical school, we are so pleased to welcome you into the medical community and to guide you toward a career of learning and caring for others.”
Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Issac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, told students that his own interpretation of the white coat came from his pediatrician as a child, Thomas J. Garvey. He said Dr. Garvey was, “my version of a Norman Rockwell print of the doctor.”
“This, I thought, is what a doctor really is: smarter than the rest of us, powerful enough to cure me with painful injections and awful tasting medicine,” he said. “I distinctly remember him as being at least seven feet tall, larger than life.”
After donning their new white coats, the Class of 2022 recited the Oath of Maimonides, led by Maegan Pollard.
Max Deng, SOM ’22, said he believes the white coat gives him the opportunity to make a difference.
“I think a lot about the American health care system being at a crossroads. Putting on the white coat gives me the power and responsibility to be part of the discussion and help shape where things are going,” said Deng, a native of Los Angeles. “Putting on the white coat is joining a long legacy of healers that stretches back forever.”