First-year medical students receive lab coats

The future of the white coats may be endangered; an American Medical Association report said they carry bacteria.

Jessica Van Berkel

Medical professionals presented 170 first-year students with short white lab coats at the Medical SchoolâÄôs White Coat Ceremony Friday at Northrop Auditorium âÄî an annual event that welcomes students to medicine, including an oath outlining the values of the profession. The White Coat Ceremony is a symbol of the studentsâÄô oath âÄî though some medical experts say the coats themselves help spread bacteria and should be banned. One hundred similar ceremonies take place annually at medical schools across the world. This was the 13th annual ceremony at the University of Minnesota. âÄúThe white coat is an honorary and physical embrace from your colleagues, young and seasoned,âÄù Kathleen Watson , associate dean for students and student learning at the Medical School, said. The first White Coat Ceremony took place at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993. It resulted from a concern by Arnold P. Gold , a pediatric neurologist, that medical students âÄúsometimes showed a lack of caring and compassion for patients,âÄù Watson said. The ceremonies are based on an oath students take. At Northrop, students read the âÄúOath of the Class of 2013,âÄù which was written by the students the day before. It included pledges to âÄúact to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare,âÄù and âÄúshare knowledge, inspiration and accountability.âÄù White Coat Controversy In addition to carrying the morals of the profession, the coats may also be carrying bacteria between patients, according to a June proposal to ban the symbolic physiciansâÄô coats made by the American Medical Association at its House of Delegates meeting earlier this summer. James Pacala, a physician and associate professor in family medicine and community health at the University, was one of the âÄúgreetersâÄù who congratulated students as they walked across the stage to receive stethoscopes and pins. He said the danger of passing bacteria can be reduced by hand washing, which âÄúwe know works.âÄù He said it doesnâÄôt matter what physicians are wearing, and people should not get too âÄúhung upâÄù about the dress code proposal, especially since there is no hard data. The underlying evidence for the AMAâÄôs report âÄúseemed a bit shakyâÄù and the council referred the report for further study by the Council on Science and Public Health , American Medical Association, spokesman Robert Mills said. There are many ways to spread germs, like putting hands in pockets (where bacteria thrives) and wearing scrubs outside, first-year medical student Laura Waller said. âÄúItâÄôs really about good hygiene,âÄù Laurel Drevlow , an adjunct associate professor of medicine, said. Drevlow said this will not be the end of the white coat; there are âÄútoo many other important things to worry about.âÄù Many of the new students also said they think the white coat will remain a staple of the profession. It establishes trust, first-year Ari Nahum said. Creating a community Having a shared oath helps âÄúcreate communityâÄù among the students, first-year student David Melling said. The class met a few days before, and was composed of 72 percent Minnesota residents, and included six international students. The ceremony and the oath remind students of âÄúwhy we are here,âÄù Melling said. His father, who is a doctor, told him the event âÄúreminds him why he got into medicine in the first place.âÄù MellingâÄôs father was one of many relatives and friends of the Class of 2013 in the audience at Northrop, which also included supporters of the 46 students from the class of 2010 who were inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society during the ceremony. Society members were chosen by peers for âÄúexemplary demonstrations of professionalism,âÄù Watson said. Being a professional was a common theme at the ceremony. In his opening address, Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the Medical School, said the medical profession is a âÄúway of life.âÄù Pacala also said the event gave students the sense that âÄúthis is not a job, this is a profession.âÄù For now, students are not planning on turning in their short white coats until they exchange them with the longer coat indicating they are no longer students, but doctors.