White Coat Ceremony: Perspectives from a third-year student

As a third-year medical student, I wanted to share the unique perspective of the student who just started clinical rotations. I never truly appreciated how much physicians are really asked to do until recently.

They’re asked to be phenomenal communicators – say or document the wrong thing and the entire management changes. They’re asked to be teachers, educating their patients on why they’re suffering the way they’re suffering. They’re asked to be role models, which unfortunately these days has to be said out loud. They’re asked to be scientists, capable of both doing and interpreting the newest research in the name of evidence-based medicine.

Prem Narayan Ramkumar, currently a third-year student at Baylor College of Medicine, spoke at the 2012 White Coat Ceremony.

Prem Narayan Ramkumar, currently a third-year student at Baylor College of Medicine, spoke at the 2012 White Coat Ceremony.

The last thing we’re asked to be, and it’s in the verbal contract all first years are about to make tonight, is compassionate. Okay, yes, that’s obvious and shouldn’t be a surprise because Baylor students are exceedingly compassionate to their core. This was particularly tough for me to wrap my head around the last six months not because I’m a heartless monster but because of its implications.

I’ve learned two patients with the exact same presentations will have the exact same management plans on the tests you’ll take, but can have completely different management on the basis of an entirely subjective question “how much is this bothering you?” The patient’s answer to that incredibly subjective question can change things so much, whether it be prescribing pain meds, further reassurance, or even additional work-up to determine another etiology.

That to me implied at the end of the day, we were simply there to provide a service: make the patient feel better, which is entirely different from “make the patient be better.”

Despite my business inclinations as an M.D./MBA student, this realization made me fear my future profession was simply a glorified business – a service industry, a thought that made me a little nauseous. What is our product then? Were we honestly and seriously selling compassion? And then it hit me.

The product being sold is all you incoming medical students. Your future patients in their time of need will call your number. They’re not going to need just your compassion; they will need all of you and all the hats you can fit into your brand new white coats today.

Whatever it is you will have to offer – your brilliance, your sense of humor, your prescription pad, your latest scientific discovery, your empathy – be prepared to offer all of it. Over and over again. That makes you the most valuable investments in one of the noblest professions…businesses… industries – you pick.

You are all investments your wonderfully supportive families have hedged on since the day you were born. You are all investments your alma maters have hedged on since the day you got your acceptance letter. And now you are all investments, which one of the most storied institutions in the history of medicine is hedging on. And you haven’t even heard the best part! They’ve gone all in.

You’ve proved all of us right every single step of the way and shown you deserve to wear the white coat and all its associated responsibilities. Just like the many before you who too received the white coat from the Baylor College of Medicine, when this product is finished, it’ll be polished. And it’ll sell itself.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017!

-By Prem Narayan Ramkumar, third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine

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