White Coat Ceremony

The Gold Foundation established the White Coat Ceremony in 1993 at Columbia University as a way to highlight the importance of humanism in all care of patients. The iconic ritual provides an important emphasis on compassionate, collaborative, scientifically excellent care from the very first day of training. For nearly 20 years, the nonprofit organization has seeded the White Coat Ceremonies at medical schools and, starting in 2014, in nursing schools around the globe.

In 2021, White Coat Ceremonies may be virtual or have a remote component. Ceremony administrators: Please visit our White Coat Ceremony toolkit for downloadable banners, program templates, keynote videos by medical education legend Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, who was the first African-American woman to be dean of a U.S. medical school, and Dr. Deborah Trautman, the President and CEO of American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and much  more.

Together with AACN, the Gold Foundation has announced funding for 50 schools of nursing to host White Coat/Oath Ceremonies in 2021-2022 academic year. 

A rite of passage

Intended for first year students in medical, nursing and physician assistant programs, the White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage that often takes place during the initial days of orientation. It serves to welcome students to healthcare practice and elevate the value of humanism as the core of healthcare.  It provides a powerful emphasis on compassion in combination with scientific excellence.

The most important element of the ceremony is the oath that students take in front of family members, school leadership and their peers to acknowledge their central obligation of caring for the patient.

Individual schools decide what their ceremony will look like. But all ceremonies include an oath, speakers and some way to commemorate the occasion — whether it be with the presentation of a white coat to each student or some other icon of medicine, such as a stethoscope.

White Coat Ceremony for sophomore nursing students, funded in part by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation

The White Coat Ceremony for Medical Schools

The first White Coat Ceremony led by the Gold Foundation took place in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. At the time, Dr. Arnold Gold was a Professor of Clinical Neurology and Professor of Clinical Pediatrics there. He noted that the existing practice of having students take the Hippocratic Oath at the end of their medical training occurred four years too late. The Gold Foundation instituted the White Coat Ceremony as a way to emphasize humanism in medicine at the very start of medical education. Support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped advance the White Coat Ceremony far beyond Columbia. In just a few years, the ceremony was adopted by nearly every medical school in North America.

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“As an alumni of the very first White Coat Ceremony in 1993, I just wanted to express my deepest gratitude for your commitment and dedication to making humanism front and center at all medical schools in this country.” – Dr. Delphine Taylor, Columbia University

The White Coat Ceremony for Nursing Schools

In 2014, recognizing the vital role nurses play in the healthcare team, the Gold Foundation partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to adopt a White Coat Ceremony for Nursing.  More than 360 schools of nursing now participate and the number continues to grow.

“Many students were awed by the seriousness of what they were about to undertake –their first day of clinical was the very next day.” – A nursing school faculty member on the significance of the White Coat Ceremony

A reminder to keep the human element in medicine

The Gold Foundation provides grants to schools to help host their first White Coat Ceremony. It also supplies “Keeping Healthcare Human” lapel pins to students at all ceremonies. The pins serve as a visual reminder to students that in order to deliver the best care to their patients, compassion and empathy must be the hallmark of their clinical practice.

The impact

Today, a White Coat Ceremony or similar ritual takes place at 99% of AAMC-accredited schools of medicine in the United States, medical schools in 19 other countries, 360 schools of nursing and in several physician assistant Programs.

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2021 keynote addresses

Starting in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic moved White Coat Ceremonies to a virtual event, the Gold Foundation has offered video remarks by healthcare leaders, tailored to medical and nursing schools. Schools are welcome to incorporate these videos into their ceremonies. This is a free benefit for schools. They are not available for public viewing at this time.

The Gold Foundation thanks the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) for their support and assistance in creating these addresses.

The 2021 White Coat Ceremony virtual keynote address for medical schools features Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, a medical education legend, the first African-American woman to be dean of a U.S. medical school and President-Elect of the American Osteopathic Foundation. There are two versions of the video; the only difference is the introduction. In the version for allopathic (MD) schools, she is introduced by Dr. Richard I. Levin, President & CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, and Dr. Alison J. Whelan, Chief Medical Education Officer of the AAMC. In the version for osteopathic (DO) schools, she is introduced by Dr. Richard I. Levin, President & CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, and Dr. Robert A. Cain, President & CEO of AACOM.


The 2021 White Coat Ceremony virtual keynote address for nursing schools features Dr. Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN, President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). She is introduced by Gold Foundation Trustee Dr. Lorraine Frazier, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAHA, Dean of Columbia University School of Nursing and Dr. Kellie Bryant, DNP, WHNP, CHSE, Assistant Dean, Clinical Affairs and Simulation Center | Columbia University School of Nursing.

School administrators should visit our White Coat Ceremony toolkit to access these videos and more resources for their event.