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White Coat Ceremony - History

The involvement of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation in what we now call The White Coat Ceremony actually began at commencement exercises at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, where Dr. Arnold Gold has been a teacher and pediatric neurologist for more than forty years.

The Gold Foundation initiated commencement awards in 1991 for a faculty member and a student who best demonstrate both humanistic care and clinical excellence. In support of the awardees, Doctors Arnold and Sandra Gold regularly attended graduation exercises at Columbia where it is customary for medical students to recite the Hippocratic oath. This noble 2,500 year old tradition obligates new doctors to high professional standards for patient care and the practice of medicine.

Dr. Gold became aware, as he witnessed Columbia's graduation ceremony each year, that the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath, when students accept the obligations of our profession comes four years too late. It is during medical school that students experience their initial contacts with patients and establish their professional orientation. The Foundation believes that medical students should be given well defined guidelines regarding the expectations and responsibilities appropriate for the medical profession prior to their first day of education and training. This is what inspired the Foundation to begin advocacy and sponsorship of what has become the "White Coat Ceremony."

Providing a ritual to mark the passage of the student into our medical society is as old as the Hippocratic Oath itself. Hippocrates administered the oath to students before their medical studies began, not after they were completed.

 

Copyright © 2001-2004 Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center
Reproduced from the P&S Student Handbook, 2002-2003, VI. THE CURRICULUM with permission