Our niece, Ruby, lined up with her 149 classmates to wait her turn to have her white coat, freshly embroidered with her name, held out so she could slip in her arms. After she posed for a quick photo with the University of Miami Medical School dean, as each displayed the “U’s” gesture: pointing the thumbs together and opening the palms.
Her parents and the rest of us who had hoped to celebrate in person with her, watched virtually. I love academic processions and could happily listen to Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance play for hours; I love hearing every name. Ruby’s class seems diverse in nationality; there seems to be more women than men. Masks prevented us from seeing their smiling faces. Yet we are all so proud of her and excited for her journey ahead.
The White Coat Ceremony, created by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993, is a right of passage signifying first year medical students entry into the profession. Speeches by faculty emphasized the students’ commitment to study, to compassion, to scientific evidence, and protecting humanity. In short, they stressed the enormous responsibility that makes the profession intellectually rewarding and personally fulfilling.
And yet. One couldn’t help feel the pervasiveness of the global Covid-19 pandemic while watching. No audience. Families home, huddled before screens, unable to celebrate in person. These students face this pandemic as the number one threat. They know they’re entering a profession that puts their own lives on the line.
I quote the September, Atlantic magazine article, “How the Pandemic Defeated America” by Ed Yong, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/09/coronavirus-american-failure/614191/
“No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the US had the pandemic under control; that a racist who gave birth to birtherism would do little to stop a virus that was disproportionately killing Black people; that a xenophobe who presided over the creation of new immigrant-detention centers would order meatpacking plants with a substantial immigrant workforce to remain open; that a cruel man devoid of empathy would fail to calm fearful citizens; that a narcissist who cannot stand to be upstaged would refuse to tap the deep well of experts at his disposal; that a scion of nepotism would hand control of a shadow coronavirus task force to his unqualified son-in-law; that an armchair polymath would claim to have a “natural ability” at medicine and display it by wondering out loud about the curative potential of injecting disinfectant; that an egotist incapable of admitting failure would try to distract from his greatest one by blaming China, defunding the WHO, and promoting miracle drugs; or that a president who has been shielded by his party from any shred of accountability would say, when asked about the lack or testing, “I don’t take any responsibility at all.””
It’s that last line that resonates, especially after watching the promise of these young physicians starting their medical studies, vowing to uphold the Hippocratic Oath that dates to ancient Greece, and pivots on just that: responsibility.
My friend, Chris Rosen, https://mountainmornings.net/ shared this post by her son-in-law, a Nashville ER doctor, who appealed to the governor to enforce strict mask-wearing and social distancing, shortly after he was infected with Covid-19. Thankfully, after two weeks quarantine, he tested negative and has reunited with his wife and two young children.
The White Coat Ceremony displayed one moment in the students’education;they have a long road ahead.
We owe it to them to treat this disease seriously. We need to vote in someone who takes responsibility.