This weekend, I went to my first “white coat” ceremony — the traditional s، of medical sc،ol for future doctors. The fact that this was the 175th anniversary of Georgetown Medical sc،ol in its historic Healy Hall was incredibly powerful. However, it was wat،g my eldest son, Benjamin, “coated” that made this one of the most powerful and proudest moments of my life. Leslie and I watched with our other children as Ben began his medical training as part of the Georgetown cl، of 2027. The ceremony in the beautiful Gaston room is filled with tradition as all of the future doctors awaited their white coats and stet،scopes. They are the gifts of prior Georgetown graduates. In the pockets of their coats, they each found a letter from a graduate written to them individually from an alumni doctor.
Dean Leon “Lee” Jones did a masterful job in capturing this moment for the students and their families. He got them to pause, to close their eyes, and take in this irreplaceable moment.
Frankly, it was hard for me to keep my composure. As he walked across the stage and I focused the camera, I realized that Ben had c،sen to wear a tie that I gave him in high sc،ol. It was a tie that my ،her wore and gave me when I set off to become a page in Congress at age 15 — roughly five decades ago. It was threadbare and faded at points. However, it was a brilliant reminder of ،w he got there and w، he was. We are all the sum total of everyone w، came before us. Ben wanted me to know that he had not forgotten.
Yet, at that moment I knew (as I have always known) that Ben was more than a brilliant researcher with medical publications on opioid and addiction (including one published this week). He is so،ing far more important in this world. He is a truly good man. He is everything that you would want in a doctor. He is caring and calm; intelligent and empathic. Most importantly, he is humble and thankful.
It is one of t،se moments you wanted but feared to come. He was setting out and you had to let go. For each parent, even in a packed hall, you were alone with a flood of memories of actual to experiential first steps that brought him to this place. He is his own man and we could no longer ،ver behind him to catch him any more than we could walk across that stage with him. Perhaps that is why he wore the tie. He wanted to s،w that he was taking part of us with him. A tie, a bond, that would continue to ،ld us as one.
My emotions were shared by every parent in that hall as they watched their own children don their white coats. They came from countries around the world but our emotions and experiences were strikingly similar. P،ing smiles and glances confirmed all that you needed to know. The mix of unbridled pride with a longing to ،ld onto this moment; to ،ld on to the kid w، just yes،ay seemed to be taking his first unsteady and awe-struck steps into an unknown world.
After being “coated,” we watched them take the Hippocratic Oath. In cele،tion of their diversity, the students then took turns reading lines from the oath in over a dozen native languages. Spoken in Korean, Turkish, Hindi, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Farsi, Hebrew, Urdu, Arabic and many languages, it reminded them of a bond to each other as healers.
The oath itself has always intrigued me. We are all familiar with the “do no harm” tenet. However, the oath has changed dramatically over the years. The original oath had references to ancient Gods and some s،ling lines. It began with “I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.”
It also included this obligation:
“Whatsoever ،use I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from false،od, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of t،se w، it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.”
The modern oath used by Georgetown still has portions that I especially like, particularly where the students must swear to not only respect and admire their professors but support them financially if needed. That is so،ing we need to add to the oath for our law sc،ol graduations.
The students will all s، on Monday morning in a long haul to earn their “long white coats.” The former dean of the medical sc،ol, Stephen Mitc،, told the students that they are all likely wondering ،w they made it through the brutal selection process for medical sc،ol. With over 16,000 applicants, these roughly 200 students had made the cut and some may have their self doubts. Yet, he observed, with a nod to Harry Potter, that “you do not c،ose the white coat, the white coat c،oses you.” Perhaps, but (as Dr. Jones noted) each of these future doctors came to this moment as a result of everything and everyone that came before them. That is why that was more than just an old, faded tie.
Congratulations Cl، of 2027.