Congratulations to each and every one of you and to your parents. This is indeed a special day and a special event.
This gathering is a happy occasion marked by hope, anticipation and for some, even awe. As you enter the real world of medicine, you will discover a lot that is fascinating as you will encounter much that is mysterious even in an era of rapid technological advancement.
Today, you are gathered here, united, for two main happenings: to recite the Hippocratic Oath, an oath that passed the test of time, which must have happened for a reason; and to be donned your White Coats. Two symbols of a profession that is unique among other professions.
When you recite the Oath, you acknowledge that medicine is a calling, a vocation and not a simple business or trade: “I place myself in the service of humankind” striving to be “held in good repute among all human beings for time eternal.” These words reverberate in the minds of physicians from the days of the alleged father of medicine, Hippocrates.
The white coat that physicians wore in ancient times to be protected from germs during medical procedures is now the symbol of a profession. It denotes a public promise that you will live up to the expectations of your calling. When you wear it, others will expect knowledge, expertise, care, and compassion.
Until worn by you, these coats are now just white garbs with no substance to them. Yet, they denote a rite of passage. As you slip into these garments, you transform them from a simple piece of cloth to witnesses of a lifetime.
The first day, your coat is snow white, unblemished, as you tried the path of a new clinician.
Another day, it will look depleted and shriveled, witness to long hours spent by the bedside of a sick patient, grateful for your presence, yet unable to show it.
At other times, your coat will look drab and wrinkled; a witness to long moments of struggle.
There will be times when it will lose its brightness and become tinted with imprints of different lives, lives you have touched, lives you have perhaps helped save.
There will also be times when, at the end of your shift, as you struggle to sleep, you stare at this very coat on the chair in front of you reminding you of what lies ahead, and you wonder why did you join the medical profession, to begin with.
Days change. There are instances when your coats will gleam with glory as you save your first patient, at others, they will look worn out as you become exhausted from lack of sleep and emotional stress. At others still, you will feel betrayed by them when you lose your first patient to death and you have the urge to take them off and shove them into your lockers as you fight that acid taste in your mouth, as if your coats were your enemies.
The truth is, you will each be adding your individual experiences, personal stories, and narratives to these lifeless garments and make them your personal epics. Your patients are the main characters, you are the heroes.
When all is said and done, your coat will be your pride. A symbol of what you are and what you have chosen to be, a humane healer.
Wear it with honor and pride; but also with humility.
You are joining a profession like no other. Study, question, inquire, examine, listen, explore, and most importantly, care. Your mind, with your heart, will make you a better doctor.
Once again, Congratulations!
White Coat Ceremony Address, June 2007
Thalia Arawi, PhD