On Sept. 15, 431 Des Moines University students in five clinical programs accepted their white coats and the responsibilities that attire represents in the university’s White Coat Ceremony at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.
“As you don the white coat today, you assume not only the responsibilities but also the obligations that attend to those who choose to provide care to other human beings,” DMU President and CEO Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., told the students. “These obligations include to be honorable in all phases of your life, to excel in your academic studies and training, to be compassionate, to be accountable, to collaborate with others as an interprofessional team member and to support a culture of inclusiveness.”
Across the country, the White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage for students as they begin their medical education and prepare to become compassionate, competent health care providers. Participating in DMU’s ceremony were 149 students in the College of Health Sciences’ Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies, Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Physical Therapy programs; 56 students in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery’s Doctor of Podiatric Medicine program; and 226 students in the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program.
In reflecting on the meaning of the white coat, Wallace Boeve, Ed.D., PA-C, DFAAPA, dean of the College of Health Sciences, quoted Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician and founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital, who wrote, “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.”
“For myself, the art of medicine has been a journey,” Boeve continued, “specifically with the hundreds of health professional students who I’ve been fortunate to mentor and train along the way.”
Kevin Smith, D.P.M., Ph.D., M.S., FACFAS, dean of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, told students the white coat “represents far more” than a piece of clothing.
“It symbolizes the profound responsibility and privilege students are about to undertake,” he said. “In the years to come, these white coats will be worn during moments of triumph and moments of great challenge. These coats will be a comforting presence to patients seeking solace in times of illness and vulnerability. They will be a reminder of the trust that society has placed in these aspiring health care professionals.”
Steven Halm, D.O., FAAP, FACP, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, shared with students his four nonverbal cues that “will help make your first impression in your patient encounters most meaningful”: to smile appropriately, maintain good eye contact, use the “profound impact” of human touch, including shaking a patient’s hand if culturally appropriate, and “really listening” to patients.
“Don’t bury yourself in the electronic health record or sit there watching the EKG monitor,” Halm added. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there … Always be sensitive to your patients’ conditions, their needs, their backgrounds, their cultural customs and their responses.”
The ceremony concluded with the three deans leading the students in reciting the White Coat Ceremony Student Oath, in which students pledged to focus their efforts on “the ultimate goal of serving my future patients.” The students’ white coats were provided by an endowed fund established by DMU graduates Maurice Schwartz, D.O., Class of 1933, and Elliott Schwartz, D.O., Class of 1973, as well as by donations from other alumni and friends.