White Coat Day - Harvard Medical School

Welcome to Med School

Wow, I can’t believe my first week of medical school is already over! I can truly say it was one of the best and most memorable weeks of my life. From white coat day to simulating trauma cases with high-fidelity mannequins, this week was full of excitement because it focused on “doctoring.” It’s the reason why my 199 classmates and I are here to begin with—we want to be doctors! If it was the intention of HMS to get us excited about our future professions, I say job well done!

Day One: White Coat Ceremony and First Patients

The excitement on white coat day was electrifying. After we donned our new, pristine white coats, we spoke a few words about ourselves and the class headed off to see our first patients. Day one, and we are seeing our first patients? Yes! There they were, two little girls sitting in the front of the auditorium, portraits of famed doctors peering down at them. Our class filed in wondering what could possibly be amiss with these two beautiful little girls. It turns out that these two young ladies had a serious genetic disorder called cystic fibrosis, which often leads to serious problems in the pancreatic duct and in the lungs. Those two little girls essentially served as our teachers for that hour, answering every question with great excitement. They not only taught us about cystic fibrosis, but they taught us about what it’s like to be a child dealing with a severe illness and participate in a clinical trial for an experimental drug. But whatever they taught us, —and they taught us so much, they did it with great style, enthusiasm, and candor. They were so giving, expressing their most intimate details of their disorder. It was interesting for me to see how personal the interaction between patient and doctor felt when viewed from the other side of the conversation. It’s as if they would tell me anything… All I had to do is ask. I learned that the patient-doctor relationship must be one filled with love, respect, and compassion. I’ll never forget them or their contribution to my education; they were fantastic.

Day Two: Boston Children’s Hospital

The next day my classmate Lulu and I were sent to interview a patient at Boston Children’s Hospital. This time it was only two of us. I was a little nervous walking into the room; I think Lulu was, too. We saw a new mother holding her four-day-old son, caressing his head gently.  Also nestled in her arms was an illuminated green pad. I thought that seemed a little odd, but I pressed on and we introduced ourselves. What happened next shook me to my core:  The  mother hurried to put her baby down on the bed, which had a bright blue lamp over it, so that we (two medical students in their second day of training) could “do what we need to do” with her son. It was then that I realized the immense power and responsibility that comes along with wearing that white coat. She trusted us, but I wondered why. The extreme deference she showed to us I thought was unwarranted.  We didn’t even know what those lights were for! As it turned out, the young boy had jaundice, and the wavelength of blue light helps rid the body of excess bilirubin. But we weren’t there to poke and prod the child; we were there to ask a few questions and gain some experience. We asked her what we could do to be good doctors, what advice she might have for us. She said simply, “It helps to smile.” I always do that, so that should pose no problem for me.

In interacting with these patients and others this week, I realized that patients are often our most important teachers. They bring with them wisdom that cannot be acquired from a textbook, medical journal, or endowed Professor of Medicine. They are arguably the most important part of medical education. They’re certainly the highlight of my day and the reason I’m here. I hope to continue to learn from my patients, so that my patients can benefit from the best care that I am capable of providing.

Onward to week two!