I am writing today after completing my first week in PA school at Penn State Hershey. Thus far we have had three days of orientation and two days of class. Nothing major yet. The classes themselves have been introductory.

I find myself, this weekend, feeling enthusiastic. We received our White Coats on Tuesday, which fortunately enough was also my birthday. So as I step into this next year of my life, I do so with this symbolic white coat placed around my shoulders. It is hanging in my closet now, but its presence is still felt. And it is such a strange feeling.

It is not a weight or a burden. Although the responsibility of wearing it is immense. It is also electrifying. The idea that I am a professional now, and that patients will trust me implicitly. That they will ask me their most frightening questions, share with me the most private secrets of their lives, ask me to save their loved ones, look to me for empathy and confidence–the kind of confidence that comes exclusively from the practitioner, the kind that comes from the man wearing the coat.

It is a durable, utilitarian coat with pockets inside of pockets, double-stitched seams with spare thread hanging out from every corner. It is neither soft nor starched, and it is almost brilliantly white. A name tag and two patches: one of my school’s logo and the other identifying me as a student. And on the lapel, a small gold pin with a stethoscope in the shape of a heart and the words, “Humanism in Medicine”. A token reprising me of my first and foremost responsibility as a practitioner: to exemplify the goodness in humanity.

Class begins for real next week, and I know that I have a long year ahead of me. The second-year students seem to love giving me advice, which I jot down and commit to memory almost hungrily. They also give me a peculiar brand of encouragement that comes mixed with forewarning. They tell me that I “will survive”.

While it is nice to hear, I feel like I am facing the apocalypse.

White Coat Ceremony

Taking the Oath