MED SCHOOLS: ‘White Coat’ Ceremonies Prompt Respect, Ethics
Throngs of entering students at University of California medical schools in Irvine, Los Angeles and San Diego will encounter a new rite of passage this year as they are "cloaked" in the white jackets often worn by doctors. Over 15,000 med students at UC colleges and others across the county, including the University of Chicago, Columbia and Stanford, will participate this year in the "white coat ceremonies," in which new students are initiated into the profession by being "garbed and sworn to the ethics" of the Hippocratic Oath, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Unknown a decade ago," the ritual has "spread like a fever among the nation's medical schools," with 125 of the United State's 145 medical and osteopathic schools staging the ceremony today, compared to only 11 in 1995. Although the oath is traditionally recited upon graduation from medical school, educators hope the ceremonies will help "arm students for the complexities of 21st century practice, focusing prospective physicians on caring and ethics from their first day of training." The idea originated in 1989 at the University of Chicago after a dean noticed that students would come dressed in "shorts and baseball caps" to sessions "where the patients are pouring their hearts out," and subsequently decided that students should don the coats as a "symbol of 'the mutual respect' that patient and physician must share." Since then, the "movement to focus intently on humanism in medicine" has grown increasingly popular, as "medical faculty, scholars and others worry that today's physicians will confront technological advances and economic pressures that will wage ever more complex assaults on their professional values and interpersonal skills." Columbia Professor Arnold P. Gold, whose foundation sponsored the first "full-fledged" ceremony including both "cloaking" students and having them recite a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, said that the "oath's timing actually returns to the original concept of Hippocrates, who had students recite it at the outset on their apprenticeship." Although most deans "readily concede they can't prove the ritual works," they note that students are generally enthused by the ceremony, which is often treated like a "mini-graduation, complete with invitations [to parents], and often followed by a buffet reception with deans and faculty" (Warren, 10/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.