Sliding on the White Coat
Encompassing and profound was the observation that I made that day, which will certainly persist well beyond my training. This observation, in one word, is respect.
As I walked to the stage and stated my name during my White Coat Ceremony, I felt respect for myself. For as long as I can recall, my parents had taught me to have this respect and to live my life making choices that reflected it.
I like how Matthew McConaughey described his own mother's similar teaching during the acceptance of his Oscar award for “Best Actor.”
"To my mother, who’s here tonight,” said McConaughey, “who taught me and my two older brothers… she demanded that we respect ourselves. And, what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others.”
I’ve felt this respect on many levels throughout my life, and I believe it to be the driving force that ultimately led to the formation of a long and arduous plan; to work, grow, and struggle on my path towards my passion.
As I stepped onto that stage at Yakima’s Capitol Theatre, a few capstone steps stood before me. At the end of those steps, I understood, was one major milestone towards that very passion, which would open the gate to profound opportunities in my career and personal development.
As I was directed to the podium to introduce myself, I looked out over the audience that had gathered to honor the efforts of my entering class. Their faces radiated with pride as they witnessed our commitment to become healers.
As my eyes scanned over the smiling faces in the crowd, I spotted my own small family seated near the back. I was almost overcome by an indescribable feeling of respect for them; a feeling that often times was only present inwardly.
My wife, my mom, and my daughters were there. Seeing their faces reminded me of their unfettered belief in me and their willingness to travel to any depths with me; to make sure that I’d always return to the surface a better and stronger man. I felt immense gratitude for them and for all they had done to help guide me to that very moment.
After stating my name and hometown to the audience gathered before me, I approached a group of on-looking faculty and educators.
The teachers and mentors seated before me looked at me for a brief moment as I passed by. Their gazes seemed to imbue me with the hope that they not only hold in each one of my peers, but now in me. One of them had risen from among the group to take his turn placing the white lab coats that represented the day upon the shoulders of the students crossing the stage. As I approached him, I stared into his eyes.
I could see in him that he wasn’t there because it was listed in his job description; he hadn’t come today because he’d been on the losing end of a match of drawing straws. Instead, he was there because he cared; because he believed in me and my fellow students.
Just looking at him, I could see that his drive to educate existed in a place far beyond a mere procedural responsibility. It felt crucial for me, and hopefully others, to understand this. In our short interaction, I could feel a sincere hope that when the coat was placed upon my shoulders, it would be a personally transformative occasion. I could sense a faith that the coat would serve as a deep source of personal meaning and perspective, powerful enough to last a lifetime.
Now donning a crisp, white medical coat with the letters “PNWU” stitched across the chest, I walked behind stage and into a moment of quiet reverence. As I stepped, the voices of my classmates, stating their names and hometowns, washed over me. I continued to listen to these names as I passed by the friendly faces that led me back to my seat.
Taking a seat once again beside my peers -- all of us wearing the same white coats -- I felt a deep respect for them. The brief separation backstage had bolstered the impact of the honor I felt sitting amongst them, as I will do as a physician after my formal training is complete. Each of us had committed to the same goal and sacrificed greatly on our own journeys, and now we were here together.
This moment of clarity wasn’t one I could have discovered alone.
This journey, instead, consisted of three important parts: my commitment to becoming the best physician I can be, my willingness to collaborate fully with fellow physicians and healthcare professionals, and the many individuals who are relying on us to help them live healthier and happier lives.
This aspiration became a deep resolution wherein I understood the importance of building trust and mutuality with colleagues and patients, so that health can be brought to surrounding communities whose need for it is only currently expanding. The White Coat Ceremony helped me to see the need to lose myself as we, together, find and selflessly administer to those whom will depend on our diligence, our compassion, and our aptitude.
As I sat there in that theater chair, I felt a deep respect for my family, who had sacrificed so much to ensure that I could fulfill my passions. I looked around at the peers I respected so deeply, imagining the paths they had taken and the obstacles they had overcome to find themselves here. And as I looked down at the white coat I now donned, I recalled my own journey.
I respected myself, and that respect made me better capable of respecting everyone who helped me to reach that very moment.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st Year (OMS I)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences