It was finally beginning to feel real. Over the past few weeks, I had experienced many of the exciting (and sometimes terrifying) firsts of medical school: Meeting the talented classmates who I would be learning with for the next four years, making the first cut with my tankmates in gross anatomy lab, and cramming more information into my head than I thought possible in a two-week period.
But it didn’t truly register that I was actually a medical student until the surreal moment when I donned a white coat bearing my name at Baylor College of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony. This important milestone gave me an opportunity to reflect on the significance of my first white coat.
I’ve come to realize that my white coat itself is something of a paradox. One distinctive feature of the coat is its length. If you see an attending followed by a gaggle of trainees at a teaching hospital, you can always spot the medical students because they’re wearing the shortest coats. The short coat functions as a tangible representation of how much I still have to grow in my knowledge and understanding of the practice of medicine.
At the same time, it is still a white coat. Discussing the ceremony with a Baylor alumnus, he described how the white coat represents a sacred trust: not in a religious sense per se, but in the sense that it carries the profound commitment and duty that come with the medical profession. The short coat thus embodies the tenuous status that medical students occupy: lacking in experience, yet entrusted with the responsibility that the white coat symbolizes.
My crisp, new coat is also adorned with two lapel pins: One that reminds me of my past, and another that points me toward the future.
The first pin I received when I graduated from Rice University this past May. The Rice pin reminds me of all of the family, mentors, and friends who have invested in me and woven themselves into my life. It helps me remember that no one makes it to this rite of passage on their own, and that we all need community to make it to the end.
The other pin, given to me on the night of the White Coat Ceremony, offers an ideal to aspire to. It is the “Keeping Healthcare Human” pin of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which created the White Coat Ceremony in 1993. The original ceremony was inspired by the desire to counteract the multitude of pressures that can sap healthcare professionals and students of their empathy and focus on the patient.
The very name of the pin is evocative: it is a memento reminding us that though we still have so much to learn about the practice of medicine, we all still have an opportunity to form a profound connection with patients and offer them some measure of comfort. The pin represents the high values of compassion, integrity, and selfless service that I hope to cultivate during my time in medical school. Fittingly, these sentiments were echoed in the medical student oath that brought the ceremony to its conclusion.
Decked out in my white coat, I made my way through the crowd to my family and friends who had come to congratulate me. As I hugged my mom and dad, we chuckled about all of the fake shots and pretend TB tests they endured during my preschool years. As my college pastor teased me about receiving free healthcare advice, his adorable four-year-old daughter proudly presented me with a paper-bag “Trevor” puppet that she had decorated with an orange pom-pom nose and blue eyes and carefully dressed in a construction-paper white coat.
Holding the puppet in my hands, I could feel the excitement and love that had gone into crafting it. It’s my hope that I will carry this same childlike enthusiasm with me as I craft a career in medicine worthy of the white coat.
-By Trevor Jamison, MS1 at Baylor College of Medicine