University of Vermont

The White Coat Ceremony: Class of 2019 Marks Milestone

Dealing with challenges, varying emotions and general stress is consistent with becoming – and being – a physician. Not quite three months into their medical school journey, members of the University of Vermont College of Medicine’s Class of 2019 are becoming increasingly familiar with this phenomenon, but thanks to the Professionalism, Communication and Reflection course, these first-year medical students were better poised to slide comfortably into their first white doctors’ coats at the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony, which took place on Friday, October 23, 2015 in UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel. Watch the ceremony video.

Students who pursue a career in medicine are often drawn to the opportunity to help others and work closely with and be inspired by patients. While the work can be incredibly rewarding, the stress of dealing – literally – with life and death on a regular basis, in addition to administrative responsibilities, can take its toll. Many physicians compartmentalize their difficult experiences rather than allow themselves to respond to them emotionally and this can gradually lead to the symptoms of burnout that roughly 40 percent of physicians report feeling. Designed to teach students to deal with the issues that lead to burnout, the College’s PCR course “creates a space for open conversation about the students’ experience in medical school, and directed conversations – supported by readings and reflective writing – about both their experiences in the curriculum and broader issues in medicine,” says Lee Rosen, Ph.D, course director. “Our hope is that through this practice, students learn how to be fully present for their patients.”

A special program involving alumni also supports this practice. For the second year in a row, the College of Medicine alumni affairs office organized the White Coat Notes Project. Each member of the Class of 2019 received a special note of encouragement in the pocket of their brand new white coat from a UVM medical alumni member.

Who are the members of the Class of 2019? Below are glimpses into the backgrounds of several students:

  • “Having that group of people you see often and get to know well, and working really hard to accomplish the same goals is powerful and motivating,” says Williston, Vt., native F. Gregory Gause, about his experience playing basketball for McGill University. Working as a medical assistant in dermatology at the UVM Medical Center and assisting with office-based surgeries and biopsies with Laura McGevna Nelson, M.D., primed him for med school and the white coat.
  • Khaled Al Tawil lived the first 16 years of his life in Jordan, after which he and his twin brother left the Middle East for California, where he worked in minimum wage jobs on his way to attending college at the University of California, Davis. A stint working as a medical scribe sparked his interest in medicine, led him to cellular research at Stanford University and finally, to the UVM College of Medicine.
  • Callie Krumholz Linehan was inspired by her Burlington (Vt.) High School biology teacher, Judy Allard, a 1998 Vermont Teacher of the Year, and went on to study biology at Hamilton College. After college, she worked at a Thetford, Vt. camp for kids with Asperger's syndrome before leaving her home state for Seattle, Wash. There, she worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on ovarian cancer research and confirmed her decision to pursue medicine. She and her husband love being back in Vermont, and welcomed their first child last year.

UVM’s White Coat Ceremony opened with welcome remarks from Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education William Jeffries, Ph.D., College of Medicine Dean Frederick C. Morin, M.D., and UVM Medical Group Board of Directors Chair Claude Nichols, M.D., who is also professor and chair of orthopaedics and rehabilitation. Alicia Veit, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and the 2015 UVM faculty recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, delivered the keynote presentation at the ceremony. The official Presentation of Coats included Christa Zehle, M.D., associate dean for students; Tania Bertsch, M.D., associate dean for clinical education; and Paula Tracy, Ph.D., director of the Foundations Level of the Vermont Integrated Curriculum.

A portion of the funding for the white coats is provided by the UVM Medical Alumni Association. The Arnold P. Gold Foundation provides the gift of Humanism in Medicine lapel pins to each medical student participating in the White Coat Ceremony. The UVM Office of Primary Care provided students with a keepsake copy of The Oath, which was read by medical students and physicians at the close of the ceremony.

Background Information on the White Coat Ceremony:

  • Initiated on August 20, 1993 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, this annual ceremony or a similar rite now takes place for first-year medical students at about 90 percent of schools of medicine and osteopathy in the United States, and is supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation
  • According to the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the White Coat Ceremony helps establish a psychological contract for the practice of medicine.
  • Physicians dressed in black until the late 19th century, due to the association of black attire as formal. Physicians adopted the white coat as a symbol of purity at the beginning of the 20th century. (Source: Mark Hochberg, M.D., “The Doctor's White Coat--an Historical Perspective,” American Medical Association Journal of Ethic’s Virtual Mentor website, April 2007)