Coats and Stethoscopes

Today was epic.

Beneath the opal waves of art on the second floor of the Li Ka Shing Center, I found my place in line before a rack laden with crisp white coats.  Around me, my classmates mingled, parted, and mixed again until we divided into four lines, each reflecting our assignment to one of Stanford’s four academic advising deans: Drs. Neil Gesundheit, Susan Knox, Oscar Salvatierra, and Eric Sibley.

Ahead of me, a bright sheet of paper attached to the coat rack bore the name of Dr. Salvatierra.  I waited in line, still nearly bouncing with the excitement of finding out that Dr. Salvatierra would be my advising dean for medical school.  Last month, he had spoken to me and eight of my classmates in the Leadership in Health Disparities Program, and everything about him had made an impact on me.  His words had resonated with his passion and love for medicine and mentoring, and his life story had both challenged and inspired me.

I remember him repeatedly reminding us that life is good, that life is beautiful.  He was speaking from years of experience, and his words had given me a spark of light to hold on to.  I know that my journey into medicine will at times take me down paths where I cannot easily see the sunlight, and I will need those sparks to help light the way.

Life is beautiful.

One by one, as we stood in the windowed hall, we were handed our white coats to drape over our arms while waiting for the ceremony to begin.  I unfolded my coat, watching as the letters forming my name fell into line.  They were embroidered in cardinal-colored thread and stood up slightly from the surface of the crisp fabric, as if embossed in wax.

Perhaps, in a way, they are sealing my place in the medical field.

A hush fell over us as we filed into the adjacent room where family and friends waited for the White Coat ceremony to begin.  My mom was among them, representing all of my family at home and a lifetime of love and support.

Thank you Dad, Mom, and everyone.

The ceremony went smoothly with just the right amount of formality.  The speeches would be saved for the Stethoscope Ceremony later in the evening, so Dean Prober gave a brief but beautiful commentary on the symbolism of the white coats we were receiving.

White is the color of cleanliness, integrity and optimism, representing our role and mindset in medicine, while the full-length cut of the coats represents the equality of all health care team members.

I waited, grinning with excitement, as the classmates ahead of me were called to the front and draped with their white coats.  There was something monumental about this moment—it was almost as if the mantle of responsibility was being passed from one generation of physicians to the next.  Some of our E4C mentors were present, holding the coats open as we turned and slipped our arms into the white sleeves.

Dr. Salvatierra called my name.  I stepped forward and handed my coat to Dr. Pompei, feeling the crispness of the fabric as its folds fell around me.  In that moment, the fabric was the tangible symbol of my hopes and fears, along with my determination to realize the former and overcome the latter.  It was amazing.

An hour or two later, I sat in front of the Li Ka Shing Center for the Stethoscope Ceremony as the setting sun cast angular shadows across the building walls.  With the evening breeze rippling across the wide lawn, Dean Prober spoke to us about the meaning of the stethoscope.  Among symbols of the medical profession, the stethoscope is associated with trustworthiness.  It reflects the connection between two individuals and is a tool of relationships, requiring one to listen.

Listen with your eyes

A breath can be everything

And silence can speak

The sun was still warm on my face as Dean Prober called my name and I climbed the steps to the stage to receive my first stethoscope.  It came in a box wrapped with a band of red ribbon, and after the ceremony ended, my mom was the first to drape the stethoscope around my neck.

I am now a Stethoscopist.

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