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.
The White Coat Ceremony for Medicine
The first White Coat Ceremony 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.
“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
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