The White Coat Ceremony doesn’t really kick off medical school, many of you may not know. Technically, it starts days before, with lectures, group exercises, trips to the library and even patient interaction. OK, they may be more on the fun side, but everyone certainly learns something during orientation week they’re bound to put toward their medical careers.
It’s Monday morning, and the future of medicine sits—168 students in all, chatting, introducing themselves to one another in the Biomedical Research Building auditorium.
J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, dean of the medical school, opens the day, joined by Gail Morrison, MD, dean of Education, and others, including Ken Ginsburg, MD, a professor of Pediatrics, with an inspiring and thought-provoking talk that struck a chord with students. “Surviving medical school with your soul intact” was the name of his talk, and at the core was compassion for patients and being fair. Take care of yourself, not just your patients, and enjoy life with friends and families, he told them. Afterward, four or five students stopped Dr. Ginsburg to commend him for the talk, letting him know that his words resonated.
After lunch with advisory deans, the students headed to Stemmler Hall to get their new iPads. This is the second year Penn has equipped new students with the devices. “This represents the latest step in a 15-year technology investment to bring medical curriculum into the digital age,” says Dr. Morrison. Next was the Biomedical Library.
The students needed to get the lay of the library land, so what better way to show it off than with a Game-of-Thrones -themed stations: patron services (The Wall), computer center (Dothraki Sea), wireless and mobile (Winterfell), and poster printing (The Eyrie). I know what you’re thinking: What’s with the theme? But I think the more important question is, why not? Med school is tough and can be very serious, so why not preface it with a fun pop culture reference? Perhaps it was a warning. “Winter is coming!” the shows’ characters always proclaim. Or in the med students’ case, hard work.
They bowled that night. And the next day was geared more toward student life: safety and urban biking; public transportation; mental health; and money management. War stories from second year students were next, and a lecture from David Horowitz, MD, associate chief medical officer of the health system, on the medical self-help book Better by Atul Gawande followed.
Just three more days to get that short, white coat and ceremonial stethoscope.
Wednesday and Thursday took the students out for some fresh air. Team building and skits (which I’m told are very, very funny) dominated their time at the ACE Conference Center in Lafayette Hill. The idea is to get the students working together again, trust each other. Getting into medical school is a very competitive, individualized mission. Now it’s time to break away from that and hold hands. Ok, maybe not, but at least learn to successfully take care of patients together.
Speaking of patients, the next morning, the students had group discussions led by Penn doctors about the importance of communication between doctors and the people they treat. There was even a patient panel. And then (finally) came the White Coat Ceremony.
That afternoon, before Frank T. Leone, MD, MS, associate professor of Medicine, delivered his keynote “Where You’re Headed: To Be Determined,” the new students came up on the Zellerbach Theater stage, one by one, to be “coated” by Dr. Morrison in front of family and friends (the ones that helped them get there!) They said their names, where they want to college and where they were from. Some added in heartfelt thanks. And some threw in a little humor. “Mom, thanks for doing my laundry last night,” quipped one gentleman.
As the crowd laughed, I thought to myself: “See, they had a busy week—he probably didn’t have time to do it himself.”