Keynote speaker talks about the healing power of the doctor-patient bond

By Lisa Dutton

“Daddy, Daddy!” This gleeful cheer burst across the room as Matthew Schulz walked on stage to slip on his white coat during McGill’s annual Donning the Healer’s Habit Ceremony.   The greeting from Schulz’s five-year-old daughter embodied the shared sense of pride felt by every family member and friend who filled New Residence Hall on October 5 to watch their loved ones receive their white coat.  The annual ceremony for McGill’s second-year medical students marks the start of their career as health care providers.

Schulz, a father of two young girls says, “The ceremony marks the transition from the classroom to patient care.  Now, we get to be with patients, learn from patients and accompany them along their health care journey. The white coat is an important symbol.  Each time we put it on, even if we are tired, it reminds us to focus in order to offer our patients the best care possible.”

Addressing the Class of 2021, Dr. David Eidelman Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine reminded the crowd that the physician’s white coat symbolizes professionalism, caring and trust, which they must earn from patients.

The parents and friends of Julian Hughes flew in from Victoria, British Columbia to watch him don his white coat. “This ceremony is a rite of passage. We have spent so much time learning about various diseases and symptoms, and now we are taking our learning to the hospital where we will apply our knowledge.  We will meet patients with complex health problems, whose symptoms fall outside the norm.  We’ll have to apply critical thinking to figure out what is going on and how to help.”

Doctors are not widgets

This year’s guest speaker was Dr. Ira Byock, Chief Medical Officer and Founder of the Institute for Human Caring of Providence St. Joseph Health.  Dr. Byock, one of the foremost palliative-care physicians in the United States, implored the future physicians to resist becoming a mere widget in a health care system that is moving faster and faster and that expects more and more of practitioners.  He advised students to defend the personal and intimate nature of being a doctor.  He stressed the importance of communications, which starts with listening to patients who need to be heard and understood.  “It is okay to get to know your patients to share stories, to joke, to hug.  Authentic relationships are gratifying for both patient and physician and that is where the joy of practice lies,” he told the students. “The relationship you have with patients, even those with serious life-threating illness can bring them wellbeing.  Our role is not to simply diagnose and treat, but to be with patients during their most vulnerable time.”

Mistakes help us learn

The significance of the ceremony was not lost on Anudari Zorigtbaatar.  “For over a year, we’ve spent our time in class. We go to lectures. We sit exams. It has become so routine we almost forget why we wanted to study medicine in the first place.  This ceremony reminds us about our passion to help improve the lives of the patients we serve,” she says.

Zorigtbaatar appreciated the address of fourth-year medical student Lara Berliner who confessed she fainted when asked to insert an intravenous needle during her operating room rotation. Berliner advised her second-year colleagues not to be afraid of making mistakes, because, often, mistakes turn into profound learning opportunities.

Rachel Vaughan dreamed about being a doctor since she was a child growing up on a farm in a tiny community three hours north of Toronto.  “I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a kid so today is very meaningful to me.  I am so excited about starting my hospital clerkship.  I am looking forward to learning and putting my knowledge into action on behalf of my patients.”

The inaugural McGill White Coat Ceremony was in 2001.  The annual event is funded by a generous donation from Frederic H. Braun, MDCM’72 and Maureen Braun, a graduate of the McGill School of Nursing ’72.


October 12, 2018