In the nineteenth century respect for the certainty of science was in stark contrast to the quackery and mysticism of nineteenth century medicine. To emphasize the transition to the more scientific approach to modern medicine, physicians sought to represent themselves as scientists and began to wear the most recognizable symbol of the scientist – the white laboratory coat.
The first full-fledged White Coat Ceremony took place at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons at the urging of Dr. Arnold P. Gold, who was then Professor of Clinical Neurology and Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Columbia in the year 1993.
The White Coat Ceremony is designed to welcome entering students and encourage them to start thinking about professionalism, empathy, and humanistic patient care from the very beginning of their medical training.
A White Coat Ceremony can really set the stage for demonstrating to incoming students that the faculty and the medical community are here to support them in taking on their new responsibilities, which are quite profound.
The White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage for students who have completed their foundation years, and are embarking onto their clinical years. At the ceremony, students are congratulated on their achievements thus far, and made aware of the commitment and hard work needed for the years to come as an ‘apprentice’ healthcare practitioner, and as a professional in the field when they graduate.
The ceremony is no longer limited to medical students; starting in 1995, US pharmacy schools started holding WCCs. Now The white coat ceremony ritual is held in some medical, optometry, audiology, dental, chiropractic, occupational therapy, physical therapy, podiatric, pharmacy, physician assistant, nursing, and veterinary medical schools.