Today is the first day of medical school for 163 students at the University of Louisville, who received their first white coat as a doctor over the weekend.
On Sunday, there were lots of smiles, hugs, cheers and tears from students and their families at the School of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony, which formally marks the students’ entry into medical school.
At the annual ceremony, UofL faculty and the local medical community formally welcome first-year medical students (known as “M1s”) by presenting them with their first white coat, a gift from the Greater Louisville Medical Society. They also received their first stethoscope, courtesy of the Stethoscopes for Students program, an effort funded by alumni of the UofL School of Medicine.
The class of 2022 is a diverse group, with the youngest being 19, and the oldest 32. Forty-three percent of the class is female, and 11 percent are from groups underrepresented in medicine. Twelve percent are from rural Kentucky counties. The 163 were selected from a pool of 3,558, and come from 18 different states and 58 different colleges and universities.
Compassion was a theme of the ceremony. Speakers urged students to take care of themselves so that they could take better care of others.
UofL President Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, gave the students three pieces of advice: to take care of themselves, to look out for one another, and to recognize that being a doctor meant they were part of a broader community.
“Remember, you will be treating a whole human,” she advised. “When you are physicians and you are working with a patient, the patient is more than an aching knee or a tumor, or something else that’s wrong with them. You need to see the psychosocial dimensions of every individual. The more you cultivate your own humanity, the more you cultivate who you are and the better off you will be.”
She told them they had chosen a noble profession. “You will see us when we are at our most vulnerable, our most nervous, most scared, and we will look to you to be our partners, our coaches, to be our cheerleaders, and I am thrilled that you’ve chosen to embark on that journey with us at UofL.”
Keynote speaker Barry Kerzin, MD, a Buddhist monk and founder and president of the Altruism in Medicine Institute and the personal physician to the Dalai Lama, also urged the students to practice self-care, along with humility and gratitude.
“The more you give, the more you receive. That’s enough. It says it all. … The more you love, the more you are loved. The more you are kind, the more kindness is shown to you,” he said.
He noted, “these are kind of compasses to try to orient our lives. Of course we won’t achieve these things overnight, maybe not – probably not – fully achieved in a lifetime. But these are goals, these are aspirations.”
He said gratitude was “extremely important.”
“To feel gratitude for the next breath that you take. That you’re alive. It’s wonderful stuff,” he said. “It makes you feel good, makes you appreciate life. Even when you’re having a rough time.”
He said humility, by decreasing the ego and arrogance, increases compassion and love.
“So in terms of a doctor, make a proper diagnosis, give a treatment, but also support the patient emotionally and the family emotionally. That’s critical, and that’s what makes a good doctor.”
After Kerzin’s speech, the students filed across the stage in groups, where UofL doctors helped them don their coats. The students’ first white coat is a short white coat, and after they graduate from medical school, they are entitled to wear a long white coat. The white coat symbolizes cleanliness and the compassion that inspires students to become physicians. As they walked from the stage, they were handed their stethoscopes.
Led by Greg Postel, MD, executive vice president for Health Affairs at UofL, the students then took the Declaration of Geneva, a more modern version of the Oath of Hippocrates, in which a new physician swears to uphold professional ethical standards.