As medical students they donned short white coats. As first-year residents, the opportunity to put on the long white coat of an attending physician is a monumental part of the progression of their careers as physicians.
“The best is yet to come,” said Nancy Gaba, M.D., associate dean for graduate medical education at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), as she welcomed 87 new residents, their families, and friends during the long white coat ceremony June 19.
“We all know that the white coat is the traditional symbol of the physician,” said keynote speaker Jillian Catalanotti, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at SMHS and assistant professor of health policy at the School of Public Health and Health Services. “It’s a symbol that is tied into our training in laboratory sciences and in basic science.” Stressing the importance of humanism in medicine, Catalanotti reminded new residents that a physician is not just a scientist—“a great physician brings medical knowledge and clinical acumen with humanism towards his or her patients.”
Catalanotti encouraged all of the new residents to be reflective. “I want all of you to truly think about your practice, to admit when you run afoul of your humanistic standards, to apologize to your patients, and to strive to live up to this ideal as well and as often as you can,” she said.
Catalanotti discussed the barriers to humanism in medicine residents will face and how they can strive to overcome them. It’s natural for residents to feel fatigued and overwhelmed at times. She encouraged the residents to remember the importance of self-care. “If you don’t meet your own needs, you will have nothing in you to give to your patients,” she said. “Take care of yourself and support your colleagues and reflect on the question, ‘What do I truly need?’.”
“Sadly, there will be occasions when you witnesses the delivery of poor care, patients will be disrespected, they will not be shown empathy, they won’t be taught about their illness and their questions will be neither sought nor answered,” she said. During these instances, Catalanotti implored the residents to remember the examples of humanistic care they have witnessed and always revert back to them.
Later in the ceremony, the new residents received their long white coats from their program directors and reaffirmed their Hippocratic Oath.
“In our field, compassion is valuable,” Catalanotti said in closing. She challenged the residents to be beacons of humanism in medicine. “When you act in ways that are compassionate and respectful towards your patients, not only will your patients appreciate it but your colleagues will as well,” she said.