March 01, 2021

The meaning of the white coat

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The anticipation of Match Day is one of my favorite times of the year: sharing the excitement of our students as they learn where they are going to continue their medical careers, anticipating the caliber of talented new physicians who will join us at UAB in our residency programs across our state, and feeling pride in the significant role the School of Medicine represents in the education and training of our nation’s doctors.

I also find myself reflecting a lot on the powerful role of the white coat as the symbol of our profession. I remember a few years ago, during an address Nick Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for Students, gave at our White Coat Ceremony, he told the incoming class to treat their white coats as “a cloak of compassion, of professionalism, of truthfulness and honesty—both with your patients and yourself.”

I think a piece of that professionalism and honesty with ourselves is to congratulate ourselves when we are doing something well and to face discomfort and change head-on when we are not.

One area where we continue to learn and be challenged is in diversity and inclusion. I do not see being challenged in this area as a bad thing: to me, it means we recognize we have ways to grow, we see changes we want to make as an institution, and we are willing to do the necessary work to achieve our goals.

Diversity is about excellence as much as it is about equity. Each of you as medical students, residents, fellows, or faculty in our enterprise have different backgrounds, different lived experiences and different perspectives that shape how you treat your patients. When we pair your experiences and perspectives with our culture of collaboration and commitment to medical education, we learn from ourselves, and we share that knowledge with the next generation of doctors.

Christina Grabowski, Ph.D., associate dean for Admissions and Enrollment Management, and her team use a holistic admissions review process to look at the whole of our medical school applicants to determine not only which applicants have the academic assets to handle the rigors of medical school, but to see attributes in applicants that are paramount for patient care in medicine, such as maturity, compassion, and adaptability. We also have pipeline programs that expose high school and college students to our profession and give them insights into medical school.

Our residency program leaders are also working skillfully to attract the best residents from across the country to our programs, a fact this year that has been made more challenging without candidates having the opportunities to visit our campuses for interviews.

Our patients come to us because of our reputation for excellence. As we press forward into 2021, let us remember that diversity and inclusion are integral to our values and mission here at UAB and are a key piece to that excellence.