Friday, September 12, 2008

LOCAL: Beginning The Journey

(previously published here at

Philadelphia - Moments before reciting the Hippocratic Oath together, each member of Jefferson Medical College's incoming Class of 2012, aided by family and friends, donned their physician's white coat. The resulting "sea" of 255 white coats marked the beginning of their journey toward becoming physicians.

At JMC's annual White Coat Ceremony on Friday morning, family and friends gathered to take part in the event in the Wanamaker Building's Crystal Tea Room. Medical faculty, dressed either in alma mater robes or their own white coats, welcomed everyone and spoke about professionalism, the Jefferson Legacy, and the White Coat Legacy.

Mitchell J.M. Cohen M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at JMC, who initiated the ceremony years ago, emphasized to students that the coming years would bring two transformations in their lives. The first would be medicine transforming from a job to work to a profession, and the second would be their personal transformation into physicians.

Keynote speaker Richard C. Wender M.D., alumni professor and chairman of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, delivered a rousing and highly entertaining address that highlighted the credibility that the white coat lends young men and women, "empowering [them] with the opportunity and perhaps even obligation to approach their newfound access to people with respect and care."

"High quality caring leads to high quality learning," he said.

Dr. Wender also stressed the importance of humor in medicine, both for the well being of the physician and the patient.

The coat - a familiar sight on hospital doctors - is a symbol of a physician's knowledge and responsibility toward the patient. As described by Dr. Cohen, its ancestry is tied spiritually to healing work, similar to the clergy. Like a judge's robe, the white coat, even in modern times, hopefully inspires the giving of justice, fair access and delivery of care to everyone.

After donning the white coat, students were read Maimonides' Prayer for the Physician and, along with family who were also doctors, recited the Hippocratic Oath, which provides standards and a core set of professional values to be followed by all physicians, including the critical value of confidentiality.

First-year student Tamar Berger, 23, of Stanford, Calif., said that the faculty speeches left her feeling "inspired, moved [and] ready to live up to everything this coat represents."

Parent reactions were similarly humbled and hopeful, with Ms. Berger's father, Jonathan, and grandfather Irving being left feeling "very proud." For Wynmore parents Bob Rhoades and Kate Winkler, whose son Ruben Winkler-Rhoades is also starting at Jefferson, the entire ceremony was an "incredible moment."

When asked what appealed to them about JMC, first-year students from around the country all noted a great sense of a community and camaraderie between students and faculty. For good friends Aaron Yung and Ben Pham, both first-years from San Diego, this especially stood out.

"It's like a big family," said Mr. Yung, 22. "I don't think I've ever seen any unhappy Jefferson faculty," added Mr. Pham, 25.

At Jefferson, the first year of study for medical students is broken up into three-month blocks during which students focus on one course at a time while also learning how to be a doctor through study of Clinical Medicine. First year classes begin today.

"It's been great," said fourth-year student and ceremony speaker on shared professional values Matthew Eldridge, JMC '09. "There's a certain aspect of community [with] classmates and teachers really looking out for each other... everyone is down-to-earth and [focused on] patient care."

Mr. Eldridge, who may go into either family medicine or internal medicine, also noted that for the new students, this is "a very exciting time" and to know that soon, their white coats will "get heavy," filled with tools, stethoscopes, books and snacks.

As Charles A. Pohl M.D., the associate dean for student affairs and career counseling said, "every day, we get to learn something, teach something and take care of people."

Jefferson Medical College, of Thomas Jefferson University, was the first medical school in Philadelphia to establish the "White Coat Ceremony," a tradition symbolizing the clinical beginning of every student's medical education. It has been part of the first year program at JMC since 1994. The college offers both traditional medical education and joint degree programs, and enrolls over 900 students each year.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

No comments: