September 30, 2020 by
Crisp white doctors' coats hang on a rack in anticipation of UVM Larner College of Medicine's White Coat Ceremony. (Photo: UVM Medical Communications)
For the last quarter-century, the White Coat Ceremony has been a ritual at U.S. medical schools, one that officially welcomes students into the medical profession and emphasizes the responsibility they carry as they don the traditional physician’s white coat. This year, during the most serious worldwide health crisis in a century, the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine revised the ceremony, traditionally held with family and friends in attendance at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel, using a format that underscores that responsibility.
On October 2, medical students in the Class of 2024, along with a limited number of faculty, administrators and staff, gathered in person in small, physically-distanced groups to receive their first white doctors’ coats as family and friends joined in remotely via a livestream on YouTube.
Speakers—participating through Zoom—included Larner College of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D., Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., UVM Health Network President and Chief Executive Officer John Brumsted, M.D., and 2020 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award recipient Anya Koutras, M.D., associate professor of family medicine. Associate Professor of Medicine Prema Menon, M.D., Ph.D., and Interim Associate Dean for Students Lee Rosen, Ph.D., read the names of each student receiving a white coat.
First-Year Medical Students’ Rite of Passage
The 124 first-year medical students in the Class of 2024 hail from all over the country and each has a unique story of what brought them to study medicine.
- Formerly an accountant at a big four firm, Betsy Assoumou, M.B.A., M.S., of Belchertown, Mass., was drawn to medicine after caring for and losing her mother to metastatic breast cancer. Born in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire and fluent in French, the Williams College alum is a volunteer accountant for non-profits, and once crafted her own ruby slippers when she played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” in middle school.
- Mohamad Hamze of Dracut, Mass., was inspired to study medicine after observing his orthopedic surgeon treat his broken legs. The Tufts University graduate who worked summers as a mechanic in his family’s auto repair shop, has a 50+-pair sneaker collection and loves to play and watch soccer.
- Alia Johnson, from Bristol, Vt., was a Nordic ski racer as an undergraduate at Middlebury College. Her experience with chronic hip pain in college fueled her interest in imaging technologies like MRI and X-ray and a medical career. A passionate hiker, she has climbed all the Adirondack and White Mountain high peaks.
- The son of a nurse and a laboratory technologist, Bethel, Conn., native Justin Esteban was always fascinated with medicine, but it was a shadowing experience in college at Rider University that led to his decision to go to medical school. The self-described "very, very amateur magician" once swam in the Dead Sea—the lowest place on earth.
At the end of the ceremony, Dean Page led the students—assembled in small groups in classrooms throughout the college—in reciting “The Oath” (link to the White Coat Ceremony program).
“Apart from the symbolism of our commitment, the color white has always represented a sense of openness to me,” said Class of 2024 member Alia Johnson. “I hope we are able to carry this sense of openness onward with us in our medical education and practice.”
Each student's white coat has a Humanism in Medicine lapel pin provided by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a keepsake copy of The Oath provided by the UVM Office of Primary Care, and a White Coat Note, a message of encouragement for each medical student written by a Larner College of Medicine alum, tucked into the pocket.
About the White Coat Ceremony
Initiated on August 20, 1993 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, this annual ceremony or a similar rite now takes place for first-year medical students at about 90 percent of schools of medicine and osteopathy in the United States, and is supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. According to the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the White Coat Ceremony helps establish a psychological contract for the practice of medicine. Physicians dressed in black until the late 19th century, due to the association of black attire as formal. Physicians adopted the white coat as a symbol of purity at the beginning of the 20th century.
(Source: Mark Hochberg, M.D., “The Doctor's White Coat—an Historical Perspective,” American Medical Association Journal of Ethic’s Virtual Mentor website, April 2007)