This past Saturday I participated in UNLV's commencement ceremonies. As I watched more than 2,700 UNLV student graduates cross the stage I thought back on the medical school graduations I led as dean.
In 1996, I became the dean of a medical school in Philadelphia composed of two separate, but recently merged schools, Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP) and Hahnemann University (HU). During my three years as dean, we graduated 225 students from MCP and 175 from HU for a total of 400 students each year.
A few years later in 2002 as dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine I supervised nine graduations with hoodings of 175 students each year. Over the span of my career I have graduated and hooded 2,775 medical students -- almost the same number as the UNLV graduates I watched with pride on Saturday.
White Coat Ceremony
The first major ceremony leading to the MD degree for new doctors is the "White Coat Ceremony." It's a special time for students and their families to celebrate the each student's achievement entering medical school.
Even more importantly, putting on the white coat symbolizes entry into one of the oldest and most prestigious professions. At the white coat ceremony, we celebrate our profession and welcome new medical students as junior colleagues. A great deal of responsibility is placed on their shoulders. Patients put their personal trust in their doctor and give them access to their minds and bodies so they can heal. In return, the physician must take this responsibility seriously and remember the maxim -- "first, do no harm" -- one of the principal precepts of bioethics that was a concept formulated in the Hippocratic Oath written in the late 5th Century BC. At both the white coat and graduation ceremonies medical students will recite the Hippocratic Oath along with the dean, all the physicians on the stage, and physicians in the audience, to signify their entry into the profession and into a trusting relationship with their patients and peers.
We plan to conduct our first "White Coat Ceremony" with our charter class on August 25, 2017. The ceremony will take place after our students have completed their first six weeks of medical school and have earned their certification as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
Graduation and Hooding Ceremony
At graduation medical students wear the same gowns and caps as other students. The highlight of the ceremony is receiving the hood signifying the granting of the medical degree. It's a large hood that hangs around your neck and extends down your back. It has a dark green velvet collar that covers the hood in the back. On the inside of the back panel, the green outlines the colors of the medical school you attended.
I went to medical school at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and our colors were black and blue - quite appropriate for a doctor. My hood actually looks more like black and white, than powder blue (see photo on left).
UNLV School of Medicine hoods will be scarlet and gray.
Large hoods also are given to PhD students and all other professional-level degrees. You can tell someone's specialty by their hood color. For a PhD in any specialty you get a beautiful royal blue hood, while Doctor of Dental Medicine, DMD, is lilac; Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP, is apricot; and Law, JD, is purple, etc.
When medical students receive their MD degree their education is not over. They cannot practice medicine unsupervised until they have completed their residency training. Residency training programs range from three years (family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics) to seven or eight years (neurosurgery). Students often take additional training and become sub-specialists in a particular area of medicine. These fellowships range from one to three years or more.
I'm so grateful for the opportunity to shape the lives of medical students. The talent I've seen over the past 20 years since I first became a medical school dean is incredible. It's amazing to think of the thousands of medical students who have affected my life and career.
Congratulations and best of luck to all the UNLV graduates and to those who will follow as well.