Significance of the White Coat Speech,Fall 2017
One day, a poor boy was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through medical school. He found that he had only one dime left and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door.
Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it so slowly and then asked, “How much do I owe you?”
You don’t owe me anything,” she replied. “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for kindness.”
He said … “Then I thank you from my heart.”
As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit.
Many years later that same young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease.
Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes.
Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room.
Dressed in his white coat he went in to see her. He recognized her at once.
He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to her case.
After a long struggle, the battle was won.
Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure that it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words …
“Paid in full with one glass of milk”
(Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly.
Tears of joy flooded her eyes as she had just experienced genuine care and compassion from a doctor.
In the imminent future, you too can exhibit such admirable qualities of a truly caring doctor. From the onset, however, you should strive to be a doctor who looks out for and works towards achieving that which is best for the patient. This career path that you have chosen is not merely a job but rather it is a commitment to serving others and ensuring that they have the most favourable health outcomes.
It was during my second year of medical internship that I became very ill to the point of hospitalization. It was sudden and shocking to both my family and I, as I am rarely ill. During one of my few weekends off from work, I felt lethargic and weak but simply brushed it off as a consequence of my poor eating habits. I decided to take a nap the Sunday afternoon with an attempt to improve my condition but progressively I got worse. It was unlike any experience I have ever had. At one point, I felt pinned to the bed and could not move. My family tried to communicate with me but I was unable to respond to their voices which seemed to be very distant at the time. In my visual field, they appeared as only fractions of blurred images. Despite experiencing these symptoms, it was not until the following day that I truly realized the severity of my problem. I heard the panic in the voices of my family members who claimed that I had fallen several times when I was out of bed and so needed assistance even to shower. Strangely, I did not recall moving from my bed. I was powerless and confused. At that point, I was uncertain of my health status as it seemed that I was more dead than alive. In just one weekend I had gone from being a doctor on the ward to being a patient in the same hospital in which I worked. I was afraid and unsure of what to expect.
My one week stint in the hospital was a powerful lesson for me as a doctor. It took that time in a hospital bed for me to realize that caring for and treating patients should not be limited to medications and laboratory tests but requires some emotional input. Although I was a member of the team of doctors who was treating me, they only allotted the few minutes with me that it took to review my charts and auscultate my lung fields and heart. Their actions were so monotonous and emotionless that I could not believe that those were the same people with whom I worked. My greatest desire, at that point of time, was for these doctors/my work colleagues to show that they cared. It was hurtful but it was a major lesson for me. Being hospitalized placed me in the position of my patients and helped me to better understand what it means to be a good doctor.
White coat recipients, your presence at this White Coat Ceremony and your agreement to embark on a career of medicine signify your commitment to the field. This is only the beginning but these important first steps have sent a powerful message to many that you are willing and ready to dedicate your time, your efforts and your knowledge to serving others. This is not merely a job but rather it is a commitment to individuals, populations and even the country in which you will serve.
A wise Chinese man once said: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
We at the American University of St. Vincent School of Medicine (AUS) are proud to have you here and will provide the necessary support to ensure that you succeed along your path. Hold your heads high and be confident in the fact that you have made an excellent choice in allowing this institution to be your guide, your facilitator and your strong hold. However, as you embark on this humble career become familiar with what this noble profession genuinely entails.
Dr. Arnold P. Gold was the initiator of the White Coat Ceremony. His vision was realized in 1993 when the first White Coat Ceremony was held at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Dr. Gold believed that medical students should be given well-defined guidelines regarding the expectations and responsibilities appropriate for the medical profession, prior to their first day of education and training. He believed that such a declaration of commitment, when students accept the obligations of the medical profession, should be taken at the beginning of medical school, rather than at the end.
This donning of the white coat however, is a century-old tradition. The white coat is a symbol that serves to remind physicians of their professional duties so that medicine is practiced with integrity and honour, as described by Hippocrates in the Hippocratic Oath. As medical students, you too are bound by the same professional commitments that bind all physicians. In addition to signifying that you are a member of the medical team, the white coat is a holding place for reference materials, stationery and medical equipment like a reflex hammer, penlight and a stethoscope. Medical students typically wear short white coats so as to help distinguish them from physicians. However, this difference in the length of the coat and its meaning may not be apparent for many patients. As per Dr. Feinstein, in his book, Short White Coat, during the ward rounds a patient referred to a junior medical student as doctor. The student quickly corrected the patient by saying “I’m just a medical student.” The patient responded, “Medical student. Doctor. You’re all the same to me. Just tell me, can I go home?”. Do not perceive yourself as being “just a medical student”. You are a valuable contributor to healthcare and the improvement of health systems. Let your service to others begin now. Show compassion to all around you without displaying any form of bias. Strive to proficiently serve and care for your patients. Remain committed to this field of medicine and all that it entails for inevitably you will make a significant impact on the health outcomes of individuals and even populations.
Wear your white coats with pride. Keep them clean as a clean white coat can make a difference in the health and care of your patient. As per previous studies, the white coat inspires confidence and trust among patients. Do not take advantage of this, however, let it be a reminder of your need to embrace opportunities to learn so that both you and the patients can benefit.
Take heed of my words and remember that the path to success is rugged and winding but with hard work and dedication you will ultimately get to the finish line. Learning begins from day one and it never stops. Be a sponge and absorb as much knowledge as possible for this is the key to molding you into a great physician. As per an inspirational quote, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” Congratulations white coat recipients on this journey of selflessness and service to others!