Eva’s Excerpt November 2021


But what’s your ultimate goal, you’ll say. That goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting…

– Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, June 1880.

On Friday, October 29th, we celebrated the White Coat Ceremony with our new first year students and their family members, both in person and afar. This is my favorite event of the year. The White Coat Ceremony originated in the 1990s spurred by the Arnold P Gold Foundation to highlight the importance of humanism in medicine. It has since become an iconic ritual that places important emphasis on compassionate, collaborative and scientifically excellent care. Lisa Moscoso, our Associate Dean for Student Affairs, serves as MC. Dean Perlmutter provides opening remarks- telling an important story about attending to details, the importance of getting the basics right, and the critical role of practicing your craft with the goal of progressively achieving excellence. This is followed by a keynote speech, this year given by Dr. Jennifer Gould, describing what the white coat means to her and what she hopes it will mean to our students as they don it for the first time, and in the many years to come. The students then are brought forward one by one to be gowned in their short white coats, symbolizing their entrance into our hallowed profession. A special part of this ceremony here at Wash U is that our students work together to write their own oath. This process is repeated each year, led by Dr. Colleen Wallace, now leader of our Professional Identity Formation thread. Proclaiming it aloud as a group is the culmination of the ceremony. I get to lead that recitation and each year, I find it more and more meaningful and inspirational. If you are in need of something to remind you of your purpose as an educator, I encourage you to read the oath our students have crafted this year.

This year marked the first time we have been able to have this ceremony in person since the launch of Gateway and it included some important new changes. First, the Gateway Coaches are now the faculty who have the honor of helping the students to don their white coats. The coaches will be with their groups of 8-9 students throughout the four years of medical school. They are not just sources of personal support for the students, but serve as guides in our students’ journey through their own professional identity as physicians, discussing often challenging events and topics, as well as helping students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, passions and pitfalls as they traverse their training here. Second, the oath writing and White Coat Ceremony now occur at the end of the first module of the curriculum, Molecules to Society. This timing is important. In years past, the ceremony occurred at the completion of orientation, before students had any ability to explore what this professional journey will even really be about. Molecules to Society provides a high level overview and foundation for what is to come, and so it seems fitting to move the first oath to this timing in their journey.

Yes, I said first oath. The students and coaches, under the thoughtful leadership of Dr. Wallace will revisit and revise this oath at critical transitions in their medical school training- our second year Gateway students will be coming back to their oath during the Phase 1 Capstone in December. Students will again revisit it at the completion of Phase 2 and in preparation for Match and Graduation. Each time, they will reflect on their experiences and how they either resonate with or change what they believed and pledged at their entry into their training as a physician. I suppose this is why I find the White Coat Ceremony to be the most wonderful event of the year- it is my opportunity to do the same and to be reminded how fortunate I am to work in such a wonderful profession, with all its challenges, and in academic medicine, with the ability to guide these gifted young people to change the world for the better.

In closing, I bring you this excerpt from a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother: “But what’s your ultimate goal, you’ll say. That goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting…”

I was fortunate to read it at the Beyond Van Gogh Exhibit this weekend and it struck me as so relevant to us as role models, coaches, teachers, and mentors, as we support and guide our students, residents and fellows through their own journey to becoming the final painting they are destined to be. And if you haven’t visited the exhibit, it is now open until January 2, 2022!