I gave this brief talk to the medical students in 2008, I thought it was pretty good:
This is not a white coat.
This is a superhero’s cape; a knight’s tabard; a wizard’s robes. Not convinced? Where else but in comic books and medicine can grown-ups wear the equivalent of pajamas and be taken absolutely seriously. Who else but a paladin or a physician would be on a quest to help people. What else but the magister’s raiment or the white coat symbolizes knowledge and the hope of miracles.
Despite its mystic origins, the white coat is a poor insulator against the freezer they call the cath lab and attracts tomato sauce. It will snag every exposed door handle and makes a barely tolerable pillow. Its carrying capacity is significantly less than the mass and volume of assorted pocket references, peripheral brains, pagers, and diagnostic gadgets required of medical students.
The mark of a physician, however, is not in their sartorial splendor but in their desire to help people through their compassion, intellect, and work ethic. The white coat symbolizes the best qualities of a physician. They are the vestments of medical knowledge and the license to alleviate suffering. They command both power and respect while demanding duty and service. Today these medical students begin their clinical apprenticeship, they become squires to Sir Osler and side kicks to Hippocrates.
These student doctors will find that as soon as they don their crisp white coats that they will be looked to for answers regarding simple analytical diagnosis to the difficult decision of whether to allow a fellow human being a glass of water. From a simple piece of cloth they will be privy to a person’s most intimate secrets and exposed to a patient’s greatest moment of weakness. They will find that no matter how much they load the straining pockets of their uniform they will never carry enough resources to have all the answers.
This coat will be your introduction to clinical medicine, sometimes frightening but always rewarding, it is by interacting with patients as a student doctor that you will learn to be a physician. This white coat is your passport to that experience. Welcome to the most fun part of medical school.