Aug. 31, 2005 | Happenstance had nothing to do with Laura Conley’s attendance at the recent White Coat Reception and Ceremony at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine.
It was a moment that Conley had prepared for since she was a preschooler visiting her grandparents in the hospital.
Immediately following the Aug. 4 reception on the UAMS campus, Conley would become one of the 150 members of the freshman class to receive a white coat at the Robinson Center Exhibition Hall, first held at UAMS in 1995.
“It’s finally the start of what I always wanted to do,” she said. “You finally feel like you’re really part of the profession.”
While the College of Medicine has held the while coat ceremonies for 10 years, the pre-ceremony reception was added this year to give the students’ families an opportunity to meet the dean and faculty.
At the reception Conley’s mother, father and grandmother beamed as they recalled her early childhood pronouncement.
Her father, Bill, said the family was at Magic Springs in Hot Springs and someone was asking children what they wanted to be when they grew up. “When they got to her she said, ‘I want to be a doctor.’ She said, ‘a heart surgeon.’”
Her grandmother Penny remembered Laura as a small child climbing onto her grandfather’s hospital bed and telling him, “Papa, I’ll doctor you.”
Even more gratifying, Bill and his wife, Jane, said, has been watching their daughter work hard to fulfill her goal. Jane also witnessed that work as one of Laura’s high school teachers, and said she believes her daughter will excel in medical school.
“Ever since she was 3 years old, every action she has taken has been something towards going to medical school, so for her to get here has really been a proud accomplishment for us,” her father said.
The accomplishment also is significant, Bill said, because his own father had urged him and his brother to become doctors, but their careers took different paths.
E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., dean of the College of Medicine, called the days leading up to the start of medical school a great time, but a nervous one, too, for students.
Reece said UAMS is proud of its heritage and took note that only one person reached graduation in the first class 126 years ago. “He was the only person who made it,” Reece said with a smile to his young audience. But he quickly reassured them.
“This has changed a lot,” he said. “Our graduation rate is always in the range of 96-97 percent. So have no fear; you will do just fine.”
An oath written by a former medical student is read during the White Coat Ceremony. The students pledge to “maintain a state of sensitivity and compassion” when dealing with patients; “respect the contributions of my brothers and sisters in medicine, pharmacy, nursing and in the health related professions;” and to “honor the rich tradition embodied in learning the art and the science of medicine.”
After reading the oath, students sign a written pledge to adhere to the terms stated within it and receive the short white coat that signifies their entrance into the profession.
UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D., started the ceremony 10 years ago when he was dean of the College of Medicine.
“The white coat ceremony is an event that demonstrates to students that medicine is more than science but also about implementing the golden rule. The practice of medicine is also an art form. The white coat ceremony has truly been a spectacular success,” Wilson said.
At the conclusion of medical school, the students will hold a ceremony to mark their transition to the world of professional medicine: they will burn their short white coats, which will be replaced by long white coats.
“Receiving a long coat is another symbolic event that signifies the transition from a student of medicine to a resident physician,” said Jay Menna, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate medical education in the College of Medicine.
“To mark this transition, students often plan a bonfire, where they toss the old coats in and get ready for a new level of responsibility.”
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