February 2017 | Feabhra 2017

2017 Clinical Commencement Ceremony

Thu, 23 February 17 13:41

Now firmly established as a key event in our academic calendar, the 2017 Clinical Commencement ‘White Coat’ Ceremony took place on Friday 17th February 2017 in UCD O’Reilly Hall, Belfield.  Although we prioritise early patient contact in our Medicine programmes, the ceremony represents a key milestone for our students as it marks the point of full immersion into clinical training at our hospital sites or in the community.

Our students received their symbolic white coats from members of our academic faculty witnessed by their families and friends.  The proceedings were led by Prof Patrick Murray, Dean of Medicine and Head of School, who was presiding over his fifth such ceremony at the UCD School of Medicine.  We were honoured to have former Dean, Prof Bill Powderly deliver the keynote address.  Prof Powderly introduced the Clinical Commencement Ceremony to UCD in 2010.  We also welcomed Prof Ajay Singh, Senior Associate Dean for Global and Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, who has introduced a programme entitled ‘Introduction to Postgraduate American Medicine’ to Ireland with UCD.  Also present among the academic robing group was Prof Tom Crotty, consultant histopathologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital.  It was a particularly significant day for all three men as each presented their daughters (Ailis Powderly, Anika Singh and Emma Crotty) with their white coats.  Reflecting the international diversity of our students, many of their families and friends viewed the proceedings online via our high definition webstream.  The School would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr Frank Bonner (UCD Medicine 1970), based in Philadelphia, who has generously supported this event since its inception.

The tradition of the White Coat Ceremony was established in the USA in 1993 at Columbia University, NY by paediatric neurologist, Dr Arnold Gold.  While in most American schools, this event takes place at medical school entry, at UCD School of Medicine it is a clinical commencement ceremony marking, as Prof Murray noted,

The transition from a predominance of pre-clinical, university-based learning of medical science to clinical education with patient contact in hospital sites and in the community.

The awarding of a white coat is both practical and symbolic ; In addition to protection of clothing, the white coat represents the increased professional privileges, but also the responsibilities that accompany this transition.  In addition to meeting the expectations for professionalism in your practice, conduct and ethics, you are also joining a medical community in which it is a doctor’s primary responsibility to be a strong advocate for their patients, above all other considerations (personal and otherwise).  This is particularly important in a period of shrinking healthcare resources, in which you must reinforce the standard of evidence-based best practice to guide management of patients under your care.

In addition to being robed with their white coat, our students also received a copy of the School’s guide to learning in the clinical sites prepared by Associate Professor Suzanne Donnelly, Associate Dean for Programmes and Educational Innovation.  The students were also presented with a copy of the Medical Council guide for Medical Students on Ethics Standards and Behaviour.

The keynote address at the ceremony was delivered by Prof Bill Powderly (UCD Medicine 1979, UCD MD 1987), former Dean of Medicine at UCD Medicine, currently the Larry J Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University and attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis.  Bill has remained a great friend of the School and has expanded clinical and research elective opportunities at WashU for our students.  Prof Powderly recently became President of the Infectious Disease Society of North America.

Identifying some of the core characteristics of the Medicine profession, Prof Powderly noted that medicine is grounded in a scientific evidence base and that it places patient advocacy at the centre of the interaction.  Reflecting on the forty years since he commenced his own clinical training, Prof Powderly noted the inevitable ‘imposter syndrome’ that he and his student colleagues felt going into the wards with lots of scientific knowledge but comparatively little experience of patient contact.

You certainly can’t predict what medicine will be like over the next forty years of your careers in medicine.  We can absolutely not foretell future scientific discoveries.

I spent most of my academic career working on, researching in, and caring for patients with a disease that was unknown when I was a medical student. Indeed the year I graduated in 1979 was the year that a noted US Medical Leader wrote an editorial in the most renowned medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, that the era of infectious diseases was over and that there was no need to train any more doctors in infectious disease medicine.  In 1981, the emergency of AIDS changed everyone’s thinking. But one of the things I can tell you is that my medical education, prepared me for a career in HIV, AIDS and infectious diseases by allowing me to approach a new and unknown problem carefully and in a scientific manner.   HIV/AIDS is a prime example of the critical importance of medical science.  We have gone from a time of no knowledge and certain death for patients to an era now where we have very effective treatment which has come out of basic medical science.

Equally important as the basis of scientific knowledge, Prof Powderly noted, was the need to recognise the role of carer and advocate, working at all times in the patient’s best interests.

(Although) you will have access to machines and technologies, patients will put their trust in you….As you gain new skills, become more specialised and have more technology to rely on, remember not to lose you humanity, not to forget your compassion and not to ignore your instincts.  When I first started to look after patients with AIDS in the 1980’s, we had no treatment to offer and all of my patients died. And that’s not easy for a young doctor. But while others in our profession shunned and stigmatised our patients, I and others like me, could at least offer a comforting hand, a compassionate ear and a recognition of our shared humanity.

Closing his address, Prof Powderly recognised the privilege and opportunity which awaits our students as well as the periods of frustration and challenge.  He implored our students to ‘Go out there and do go.’        

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our students, their families and friends, and all the faculty and staff who participated in the ceremony.  A high definition recording of the ceremony is available on our YouTube channel and a large selection of photographs are available on our Flickr site.