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The white coat ceremony (or the post where I abuse the word “profound”)

So, getting into med school has been the single biggest event of my life so far pretty much.  The birth of my sister might push it to second, but it’s a close race, I’ll tell you that.  Fourteen years of having a dream, five years of undergrad study to achieve that dream, and three cycles of applying end up creating quite a sense of appreciation for the privilege that I have found myself in.  Because, no matter how hard I worked to earn it, it is a privilege.

Always.

That said, there are some things about being a doctor that are a bit heavier than that sense of elation and wonder.  A lot of the speeches given by profs in the first two weeks have focused on the heavy burden that we have just taken on.  Not in terms of the course load (though yes, that too) but in terms of the responsibility that is now thrust upon us.  We are now, as they keep telling us, members of the medical community, and we bear  the burden and the privilege that is associated with that fact.

Naturally, as first years, bored out of our minds in biochem lectures, we hardly feel that way 😉  And so, I found that some of those lectures, especially in the first week, came off as a little bit preachy, mostly because I didn’t feel like a doctor or a member of the medical profession yet.

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And then I got my short white coat yesterday night at the white coat ceremony, and boy, did that change fast.

The ceremony was really lovely, and the speakers were all really funny and engaging.  But there are almost no words that I can use – no words that exist – to explain the feeling of having that white coat being put on you.  The transformation in how you feel, about yourself, about the magnitude of journey you are about to embark on is almost beyond words.

The best one I can think of is “profound.”

Wearing that white coat makes you feel like a member of the medical profession.  It makes you forget that you can’t diagnose a single disease yet, that you find biochem boring and that people keep scheduling meetings and activities in the only hour you have off in the day.

None of that matters when you have that coat on.

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A part of the ceremony included us reading out the Declaration of Geneva, an oath that all members of the medical profession take when they start on their journey.  And so, even though we’ve been inundated these last two weeks about the weight of our profession, reading that oath and wearing that coat were the first time I really felt it.  And that, I think, is the real magic of the white coat ceremony.  It’s not about what you know, or the history of the white coat, or the funny speeches.

It’s about how that coat makes you feel.

It makes you feel like all that work, all that insecurity, the rejections, late nights of studying and long hours volunteering, and the terror of the MCAT was all worth it.

It makes you feel like a doctor.

6 Comments »

  1. This is great. I am a professor in a physician assistant program. We give short coats at the start of school and give them a long coat during our graduation ceremony. It takes it from – gee, this career child seems like a good idea to holy crapola-I feel like the real deal. Things that are earned and not given tend to do that. Sounds like your sense of humor will help you succeed!
    Streetmedicinelehighvalley.org

    • Thank you! It really is an amazing feeling to have that coat put on you, and I agree with you, that you have to work so hard for that moment and earn it makes it so much more meaningful 🙂

  2. Great post! It is really cool to read about what the med school experience is like at other schools in Canada. We didn’t have a white coat ceremony but a stethoscope ceremony instead. All the Best! – Steph (UofT ’18)

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