The White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage for beginning medical students that creates a psychological contract for professionalism and empathy in the practice of medicine. Slavena Salve Nissan, MD Candidate 2020, reflects on the ceremony’s impact on her first step towards becoming a doctor.
This year’s White Coat Ceremony at Mount Sinai took place on September 15, just days after our first midterm. The night was filled with a number of memorable moments, which were all bathed in a feeling of togetherness that I hope will last for the duration of our time in medical school. The first month of school had not been easy for any of us. Making new friends, getting used to working in the anatomy lab, figuring out study methods, and most of all, getting comfortable with this new part of our identity and how it fit in with the rest of our lives. But as we grappled with these challenges, we had each other to talk to, laugh with, and lean on. The night ended up being just as much a celebration of that as it was about getting our first white coat.
A couple of weeks before the ceremony, the first year students gathered in small groups with our preceptors and put together an oath based on the ideals that we think modern-day physicians should embody. We are one of the few schools in the country who have students write their own oath instead of reciting the Hippocratic Oath, and I think it’s a great exercise in figuring out what we value in a physician on an individual level as well as a community. At the core of a physician’s career is a deep commitment to others, but every person interprets that commitment differently. Many years from now, when we will be out in the world, my classmates and I will wear many different hats. Some of us may be master clinicians, and others may have their own labs. Still others could be writers, health policy experts, teachers, politicians, and so much more. But the essence of the oath that we recited is something that we will all carry in our careers. We promised to work individually and together for the betterment of our world in small and big ways.
Before we received our coats and recited our oath that night, we listened to two incredible speeches: one by our dean, Dr. Dennis Charney, and the other by Mount Sinai alumna, Dr. Jewel Mullen. The two speeches complemented each other perfectly in their messages. Dean Charney talked about the importance of strength and perseverance in difficult times, while Dr. Muller talked about the importance of listening and what it means to be there for both our colleagues and our patients. I found myself tearing up during both speeches because their words hit home in the best of ways.
And finally, it was time to get our coats. We were called on stage in groups of eight where we were coated by Mount Sinai physicians. Seeing my classmates getting their coats was even better than getting my own in some ways. I found myself tearing up yet again. Then, it was my turn. With butterflies in my belly, I walked on stage and found that my dad had snuck his way to the front to take close-up photos. Classic dad.
I’ll never forget what it was like up there. The lights, the weightlessness of everyone’s excitement, and the feeling of the coat on my shoulders. Truly a moment that I won’t forget.
I’m reminded of something that happened during orientation week in August when I got into a conversation with a Mount Sinai employee in an elevator. After I mentioned that I had just started medical school, he asked, “So you’re going to be a doctor, huh?” And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t say, “That’s the plan” or “God willing.” I just said, “Yes, I am.”
I’m still waiting for someone to pinch me.
The Oath written by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Class of 2020:
We recognize that practicing medicine is a sacred privilege. Therefore, with reverence for our patients and teachers, we, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Class of 2020, commit:
- To promote a culture of wellness and mindfulness for ourselves, our peers, and the communities we serve;
- To be humble agents of change in the pursuit of equitable care;
- To actively challenge discrimination at large and bias within ourselves;
- To reflect upon our own limitations, and those of the medical tradition, using them as catalysts for learning and progress;
- To bring a mindful presence to each patient encounter;
- To collaborate with patients, colleagues, and communities to foster mutual understanding and education;
- To empower patients to be partners in their own care, and
- To approach our patients holistically with love, empathy, and respect for their individual strengths and vulnerabilities.
In the spirit of curiosity and with a passion for service, we enthusiastically accept these responsibilities.
“Still Waiting for Someone to Pinch Me” originally appeared on Aspiring Docs Diaries in October 2016. The Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony will be held on September 18, 2017 at 5 pm. Join in the excitement and watch the livestream hosted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Slavena Salve Nissan, MD Candidate, Class of 2020 is an aspiring physician-writer who can never have too many love poems in her life. She is the student leader of Sinai Arts, a contributor for the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries, and a medical student editor for in-Training. You can find her poetry, photography, and thoughts on social media @slavenareina on Instagram and Twitter.