Early on a foggy mid-October morning drive-through, Alison V. Holmes, MD, MPH, associate dean for student affairs, and John F. Dick III, MED ’03, interim senior associate dean of medical education, distributed white coats to first-year Geisel medical students, marking an important symbolic step in their medical careers. Shifting from its usual on-campus celebration with friends and family because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, students were coated later that morning during their On Doctoring small group sessions.
Later in the evening, family and friends joined students in a Zoom gathering featuring guest speakers to celebrate this important right-of-passage.
Representing the Class of 2023, second-year medical student Irene Vargas reminded everyone they are at the beginning of their journey and the white coat they received means something different to each of them. “For me, this white coat is a symbol of the privilege I have to care for others,” she said. “My white coat reminds me that I must advocate for my patients, ensure equitable care, and work to erase the injustice of healthcare disparities. Every time I wear this white coat, I am reminded that I wouldn’t be here without the unconditional support of my parents who immigrated to this country and sacrificed their dreams so I could live mine.”
Congratulating the Class of 2024 alumni guest speaker Lisa Adams, MED ’90, Geisel’s associate dean for global health and an associate professor of medicine, acknowledged their momentous day in the midst of a momentous year. “But I don’t want to dwell on what the current pandemic has taken away,” she said. “I want us to rewrite that narrative right now to bring us back to the symbolic significance behind today’s ceremony in your professional lives—your white coat. A physician’s white coat is a powerful symbol that represents responsibility and privilege.”
Adams went on to say that during the past seven months as a co-chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Task Force, she was grateful for “having my mental white coat to slip my arms into and know that I had training that made it possible for me, sometimes the only doctor in the room, to approach this challenge with empathy, calm reassurance, thoughtfulness and skill. Remember your white coat gives you the privilege of working toward something bigger than yourself.”
In closing, Adams invoked the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “… do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for one’s self but for one’s community.”
If you missed the White Coat Ceremony, you can watch a recording of the event here.