Have you ever noticed how certain physical objects in life have an almost automatic association with some sort of event, person, or memory? Pumpkin spice latte = fall. Colored hard-boiled eggs = Easter. Mailboxes = a certain dog that had to pee on every single one while on a walk. It goes without saying some of those associations are pretty ubiquitous while others are a bit more personal. This blog would be about an object of the former category — a white coat.
As a proudly born and raised Midwesterner, I can certainly say I’ve worn my fair share of coats. Coats that were crucial to survival during those 8-month long winters (yea, that’s only kind of a joke) where you find yourself repeatedly asking yourself if it’s actually worth it to leave the house. Of all those coats, I can promise you none of them were white — probably due to practicality more than anything (I’m not exactly known for my ability to keep anything clean).
Of course I’m not actually talking about winter coats, but instead a coat that has been used in and associated with the the profession of medicine for 100+ years. A piece of clothing that has found itself so intertwined in association that it has a syndrome named after it. No seriously, white coat syndrome (or white coat hypertension) is a phenomenon where patients exhibit a higher than normal blood pressure in clinical settings. When you think about it, such a connection is actually pretty remarkable.
When you see a person wearing a white coat, they’re instantaneously brought to a different level. Even never having met them, you likely have thoughts about who they are, what they’re like, or their relative level of authority or importance. Maybe those thoughts are positive ones, or maybe they’re not — I guess it all depends.
Regardless, that white coat sure seems to hold a lot of power. To think something as seemingly insignificant as putting your arms through two sleeves and shrugging the stiff and boxy shoulders into place could change a stranger’s perception of you at such a surreal rate seems illogical. Yet it happens, each and every day, over and over again.
It’s powerful and borderline magical. It brings with it potential and has pockets brimming with responsibility. Ironically, it sure seems to carry a lot more weight than it actually weighs.
On Friday I received my white coat at a beautiful ceremony with my fellow M1 classmates, various faculty, and my parents proudly watching. It’s even embroidered with my name and everything which hopefully helps to remind me that it IS actually mine. I was pulling clothes out of my closet to go to church this morning and I had to do a double take when I saw it hanging there, so unobtrusive and yet starkly present now as a part of my every day life.
You know those things you think about, you plan for, you dream of, you work and work some more and then keep working a little bit harder to reach? That’s what Friday was for me. Then again, looking at that sentence I realize that Friday was simply the official kick-off. The official “Here you are Sam, celebrate today because you made it to the starting line. Now get it in gear; it’s a good thing you like long distance races.”
I’m embarrassingly excited to get started. Yes, I’ve had classes for the past week and a half, but they were primarily about helping us get used to the campus, the curriculum, our classmates, and the many competencies that will be our focus for the duration of our training. Tomorrow our hardcore science “let’s talk about glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation” classes start.
I’m also understandably nervous. Not in a “I have a stomach ache and don’t want to eat anything sort of way,” but more of a “wow Sam, here is that thing that you decided to pursue less than three years ago” kind of way. Naturally part of me didn’t think I’d actually make it this far and honestly, that part of me is probably the reason I DID make it this far. It appears I am extremely motivated by naysayer’s, even if they’re faceless internal ones. And yet, I think this is one of those situations where a bit of nerves are a good sign. It tells me I am indeed aware of the privilege it is to be officially beginning on my journey as a first year medical student. To have the responsibility and opportunity to learn to take care of other human beings whom I know little about. To be allowed into the private and hidden corners of their days all to hopefully maintain or improve their life and health in some small way.
After being “cloaked” in our new white coats by our M2 (2nd year medical student) big sib, we took the Physician’s Oath, also known as the Declaration of Geneva. It’s a revised version of the Hippocratic Oath; revised for the purpose of communicating the oath’s major themes in a modern time.
It’s a beautiful oath and also an intimidating one.
It lays out some big shoes to fill — or maybe I should say a big white coat.
I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets which are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
I will maintain by all means in my power, the honor and noble traditions of the medical profession;
My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing, or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;
I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.