I will be receiving my white coat this week. Even writing that sentence down is odd for me. We’ve all worked so hard to reach this point, but now that I’m here, it all seems so surreal.
I’ve grown up around doctors and other health care providers and have always been familiar with the hallmark white coat. However, as a child, I never really understood what that white coat carried with it. When patients see a white coat, they think of someone who is respectful and caring. Someone who can listen to what is wrong. Someone with answers. During my life, I’ve been able to distance myself from the responsibility that comes with a white coat. When I needed to wear a white coat around the hospital while shadowing a physician, I found it easy to say: “I’m just an undergraduate student.” I’m sure many of us have become so accustomed to using similar phrases while shadowing or working in a health care setting that it’s easy to feel like we’re in a costume when we don a white coat now.
While all of us already have a lot of the characteristics necessary for being a physician (compassion, respect, critical thinking skills), we all need the classes to teach us the “answers” part of the equation. Now that we are beginning to interact with standardized patients and starting to build our understanding of what could go wrong physically, we are living up to the white coat. However, it’s hard for me to realize that I’m ready to step into that role. Just a few months ago, I entered medical school and I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I’ve made it this far, that I’ve been inching closer and closer to my dream every day. The fact that I will be receiving something so iconic of the medical profession is both exciting and almost unbelievable.
Believable or not, we all will be walking across the stage November 14. As one professor mentioned during orientation, many of us will feel like a small child playing dress up when wearing the white coat or while doing examinations in doctoring skills. I certainly will feel that way on Friday. However, I have faith that over time (just like the med students who have gone before us), we’ll all grow into the white coat and the role of a physician.