For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: The significance of the white coat

As I’ve mentioned previously, over the past few months the School has had the opportunity to hold a number of White Coat ceremonies – some delayed due to the pandemic– for members of several medical and health sciences classes. As you may know, the White Coat ceremony was conceptualized to remind medical students of the unique and special responsibilities of physicians to their patients and society as symbolized by the white coat. The ceremony was initiated on Aug. 20, 1993, at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Since then, it has become a tradition at almost all the medical and some health sciences schools in the United States. The ceremony has been promoted and supported by the late Dr. Arnold Gold, a pediatric neurologist, and the Foundation that bears his name. The Arnold P. Gold Foundation promotes humanism in medicine and has supported White Coat Ceremonies across the country.

We need to remember, though, there is another and more sinister symbolism of the white coat – that it can reflect elitism, self-promotion, and a sense of entitlement. When the UND SMHS sponsors these ceremonies, I and other speakers at the events try to remind the future doctors and health care providers being honored to be cognizant of both symbols related to the white coat – the positive one of responsibility to patients and society, and the negative one of privilege and entitlement. I do think that our students uniformly are highly and altruistically motivated, and I challenge them in my remarks to remember what a privilege it is to serve others each time they put on their white coat for the duration of their careers.

As a physician who has practiced cardiology for many years, I can’t tell you how honored and grateful I feel to have been given the sacred privilege of trying to help others in need. I am humbled indeed for the expressions of gratitude that patients share with me, but in truth, I am the one filled with gratitude. I just hope that each and every one of our health program graduates feels the same way as their careers mature.

As we head into Homecoming 2022 and welcome our graduates back to campus, please join me in expressing gratitude to them for all that they are doing for the good of their communities.

Oh, and don’t forget that our annual Joggin’ with Josh 5K/10K walk/run event is this Thursday, Sept. 22 on the UND campus. You can register for the event here and I hope to see you there, whether you’re jogging with Josh – or walking with Wynne!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences