On Sept. 21, first-year medical student Kaitlyn Hughes walked across the stage tentatively to receive her new uniform. As the crisp, white coat was draped on her shoulders she realized the burden it comes with.
“Hopefully I can keep it as white as it is right now, because there’s going to be a lot of work ahead…. I think everyone could say they’re a little intimidated,” Hughes said.
The University of Saskatchewan’s white coat ceremony introduced 100 new students to the College of Medicine. It is the largest freshman class in the school’s history.
Around the world, a long white coat is the iconic uniform of a medical doctor. It is a symbol of professionalism, education and expertise. The bestowment of the traditional coat has become a rite of passage for those entering the profession; universities usher first year med students into their prestigious medical colleges by robing them in a white coat ceremony.
The event included speakers from the community, the college, alumni and senior physicians who welcomed the incoming students and highlighted the responsibility they now have.
Lou Qualtiere, the acting dean of the College of Medicine, said that the ceremony showcases the need for professionalism from students entering the college.
“It embodies the importance of compassionate care for the patient as well as scientific proficiency,” Qualtiere said.
The white coat, he says, is a reminder of the responsibility they hold not only to academia but to their patients and the community as well.
The room was packed with parents, grandparents and friends to commemorate the occasion as students celebrated stepping into the next four years of medical school.
“I expect it is [intimidating]. The whole business of medical school is intimidating,” Associate Dean for Medical Education Sheila Harding said after the ceremony. “This is a big deal for many of them. It’s the message to them that they really are going to be doctors. It starts to be real for them.”
Geoff Zerr also received his coat at the ceremony and said it put his career into perspective.
“You understand the responsibilities you have and what’s expected of us over the next couple of years…and I guess for the rest of our lives,” Zerr said.
Aware of the challenges to come, the coat gives him confidence to step into the next phase of his education.
“There’s always that little feeling of dread because you’re unsure about what to expect and how you’re going to handle all this school,” Zerr said.
Classes began for med students at the end of August, and students have been reviewing the medical code at length to prepare the students for the responsibility of the white coat.
“This is a representation of [the code of professionalism]. The message is that their duties to the profession and their patient’s begin now and not when they graduate. They are already colleagues.”
The U of S College of Medicine is currently undergoing an internal restructuring after a team of inspectors with the national accrediting body visited the college in 2011 and found a list of infractions.
The college was issued a “warning of probation” and the team of inspectors are expected back in early 2013. After months of deliberation, university administration and the college’s faculty have yet to agree on a restructuring model.
Photo: Kendra Schreiner