Health-Systems Pharmacy Editor's Note: The White Coat Ceremony

MAY 01, 2005
James C. McAllister III, MS, FASHP, Pharmacy Times Editor, Health-Systems Pharmacy Section

This month I will attend the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Pharmacy's White Coat Ceremony. The ceremony has been adapted from similar events at schools of medicine across the country by a growing number of schools of pharmacy. These ceremonies vary widely in terms of the timing of the event, the inclusion of family and friends, and the tone of the ceremony, but they all signify to those gathered that the students are becoming, at that moment, professionals via an important rite of passage.

This year's ceremony at UNC has given me a new perspective on the event because I will be both a faculty member and a parent. Our event is a relatively solemn one held on the first evening of Parents'Weekend for third-year students who are going on professional rotations during their final year. The dean and others make introductory remarks to explain the purpose of the ceremony and what this right of passage means. Students are called up in groups of 5 and are "cloaked" by 5 faculty members. UNC uses a modified version of the Oath of Geneva as an oath of professionalism. When I graduated, Dean George Hager administered an oath to our graduates. I do not remember the oath or the dean's relevant remarks, but I remember the lump in my throat when he delivered it to us.

I asked my son what the ceremony meant to him, and he responded instantly. He likened the event to a pat on the back from the faculty and a confidence booster. He went on to say that, more importantly, it conveys the sentiment that the student is intellectually competent to begin to be a health care provider under supervision and has made the transition to a professional with societal obligations. Finally, it means that all the class work is about to become very real, in that people's lives can be affected by our (student) actions. Wow! The students get it, but do we?

It seems to me that this tradition could be a powerful influence on students in terms of their professional commitment, but faculty, professional leaders, and preceptors need to be aware of the message and to reinforce it as frequently as possible. Does your alma mater have a white coat ceremony? Have you attended one? Is it time to renew your oath? Do you remind students on your rotation of their professional obligations and emphasize the importance of professionalism?

I know this year I will be "renewing my vow" as I repeat the oath to myself while the students are taking their oath, and I will be attending the ceremony in future years. I will also remind students of their importance to society as the future of our profession every chance I get at work. Join me in doing this, won't you?