Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Got my camouflage today

Here, have a stock photo of some white coat ceremony

I got my white coat today. I now blend in with the medical crowd.

It feels...weird.

The ceremony was uneventful. And long. 200 students putting on jackets takes a lot longer than you might think.

And yet, I was inexplicably excited the entire time. And I'm excited now that I have my jacket. I can't wait to wear it this week for the first time. Like I'm a legitimate medical student now. As if my tuition disappearing into the coffers of my medical school wasn't enough.

But no, the white coat gives me something a little more solid.

As our keynote speaker said, "Your white coat should feel heavy." We assume quite a mantle of responsibility with it.

I have to reproduce our keynote's speech here for you, because it was excellent. By far one of the better commencement-ey type speeches I have heard.

At times like this, I curse my anonymity a bit. She deserves to have her name known with this speech.

She spoke about attention. About a painting of Icarus falling into the sea, but no one in the painting notices. She urged us to take the time to notice our patients. She insisted that our training would try to stamp that urge out of us: attendings will be in a rush, we'll be tired and run-down from long hours and little sleep. She warned that we multi-task so much right now - doctors have the urge to bring this into the patient room. She said, "Don't. No matter what you think, you cannot pay attention, real attention, to someone when you are doing something else."

She quoted Robert Carver from "What the Doctor Said" delivering news of metastatic lung cancer:
...he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else I didn't catch
And not knowing what else to do
And not wanting him to have to repeat it
And me to have to full digest it
I just looked at him for a minute
And he looked back...
The doctor returned his gaze. How powerful that can be.

She spoke about curiosity. About a physician asking an old frail woman about her medical history, even though everyone in the hospital thought she was a pain and disinteresting. About the physician discovering this little old woman had been on the Titantic.

Our speaker segued into everyone being a survivor of something. Whether it was cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, a shoulder injury, loss of a loved one, emotional abuse, the list goes on. Everyone has something to tell. And as doctors, we can learn something from every patient.

And finally, she shared with us her own struggles. How her two oldest sons were born severely brain damaged. How her middle son died unexpectedly when he was four years old. How her and her husband just had another child several months ago.

She's been on the other side of the table from the physicians. And those who failed in their compassion did nothing to help her, or her sons. In her opinion, our greatest tool as a physician is our compassion. And you cannot care for someone without it.

She urged us: "Trust me on this. I know."

She got a standing ovation until she cried.


  1. What a beautiful, inspiring post!
    Good luck!

  2. Wow that sounds like an amazing speech! Roughly 10 times better than the one at my white coat ceremony. Our original speaker couldn't be there due to a family emergency, so our stand-in started his speech with, "So, uh, this is really last minute..."
    But really what I meant to say was, that must have been really inspiring :)

  3. Congratulations. Don't worry - your white coat is short enough to ensure that you don't blend in yet.

    Enjoy your journey - becoming a physician will change who you are. It's your responsibility to make it a change for the better.