White Coat Ceremony: Reflections from the Class of 2026

The White Coat Ceremony was initiated by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993. A White Coat Ceremony or similar rite of passage now takes place at nearly all U.S. medical schools and schools in several other countries. The receipt of the white coat, a symbol of the medical profession, is a symbolic undertaking to welcome the student into the field of medicine. With this annual ceremony often come feelings of excitement, nerves, and sometimes, self-doubt. The UMass Chan chapter of the Gold Humanism Honors Society, the society whose founder conceptualized the first White Coat ceremony, wants to honor these emotions and highlight the reflective process behind this ceremony. Congratulations, Class of 2026, and thank you for sharing your stories.

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Jessica Orofino is an MS1 excited to explore a variety of specialties and enjoying the process.

“I don’t quite think the white of this coat is symbolic. I don’t think the whiteness signifies new optimism for the field, and I don’t think it indicates the use of a more scientific approach. I don’t think it, mostly, because that would mean the white coat would need to stay white. And I don’t believe this coat is meant to stay white.

I believe that in the whiteness of this coat, they’ve bestowed on us a blank canvas- the color of our experiences, intentions, attitudes, mistakes and successes seeping through it the moment it touches our body. Sweet pastels and muted tones of first and last breaths, neon streaks of feverish study nights, hues seeping in from all those we surround ourselves with. As we continue to learn and experience, the colors will grow and change- some staining deeply into the fabric of this coat, while others are more easily washed away.

So while the whiteness of this coat has great potential, optimism is painted through teachings and reflection, and while the approach of medicine becomes ever more scientific, it too, is colored by this palette of our coat. And even before our coats are fully saturated, they begin to drip onto the people we serve, and can spread to paint whole families and communities. Thus, we must wear and wield our coats carefully, for the profession that we are someday destined to color, is in the process of painting our coats, and art bestows a powerful legacy.”

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Benjamin Dadagian-Goldman is an MS1 interested in using virtual reality for health education and clinical applications.

“The white coat and the ceremony itself are both interesting symbols showing a tangible increase in responsibility each person who dons the coat now has. Up until this point students have worn many different articles of clothing that symbolize who they are at that moment. Whether it is a football uniform, apron, hard hat, or fatigues, each represents a different group of people that are being served. The white coat symbolizes being responsible to help each and every person and engage in a lifelong pursuit of learning. This ‘realness’ from first picking up the coat has made many of my friends and I stop and realize, that we did not just get into medical school, we are here.

In a profession riddled with imposter syndrome, events such as the white coat ceremony can be a confusing time. Maybe someone failed an exam earlier in the week, forgetting a step in the Krebs cycle, and days later will be on a stage lauded for academic achievement by being clothed in a symbol of hope. The idea of hope which not only applies to future patients, but also to the wearer as well. The coat can sometimes feel too small, for the journey taken has not been a solo one, and trying to fit everyone in just two sleeves would be impossible. It can also feel too big, understanding all the roles from student to advocate, educator, artist, scientist, and friend that do not disappear once the coat is hung up at the end
of the day. I am thrilled to accept this awesome responsibility and privilege that wearing the white coat symbolizes with each and every one of my peers, knowing that we are all on the same team with a shared understanding that there is no “I” in the word healthcare.”

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Noel Rymbai is an MS1 that is considering several specialties including neurology and emergency medicine. He is looking forward to exploring the several pathways offered at UMass Chan and serving his community.

“In a very real sense, this does not feel real. All those countless days and nights, studying, working, volunteering, researching, I have given everything to get into medical school. I would think all of that preparation would leave me feeling like I am now ready for what is to come. But I am not. I have so many questions, so many thoughts running through my mind. I have just entered a new phase and all of those past experiences have now become only the tip of something much bigger. But that is okay. I might not know what specialty I want or even if I’ll be a good doctor. All I know for sure is that I am grateful for all the people and experiences that have led me here. So, as I receive this very real white coat, I will try to savor this moment as I am sure when I look back four years from now at graduation, I will remember it as the start of something truly special.”

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Tyler Long is a first-year MD/PhD student, who is interested in exploring complex host-microbe interactions.

“In anthropology, rituals serve as symbolic representations of transformation. Marriages, graduations, and funerals all mark important turning points in the lives of individuals and their communities. As a medical student, donning my white coat is a ritual. More than style, the white coat represents a sacred personal transformation into becoming someone new. This new chapter, while rooted in and informed by my history, offers growth. The white coat prompts me to never ignore my call to pursue a distinctive life – one that is quick to listen, respectful in speaking, and empathetic in character. This is the foundation for lifelong learning.

The white coat also signifies an acceptance of a new role. This new role – physician – bears both obligations and opportunities. While still in training, my white coat grounds me in the practice of my future responsibilities. I believe the white coat is sacred – it is made sacred by the lives which patients entrust to their doctors. My white coat reflects the value and sanctity of this burden. The path of the physician has been shaped by centuries of medical service and innovation. I am honored, excited, and humbled to join my peers on this journey.” 

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Haim Moore is a first year medical student at UMass Med interested in urban care, therapeutic development, and health policy. You can find him on twitter as @HaimMoore.

“For many years I yearned to be a part of the white coat ceremony. I thought my white coat would be the ultimate proof that I am a medical student. When UMass announced the white coat ceremony would be a month into school starting, I was frustrated and felt like an imposter. Then classes began. Physicians began their apprenticeship with us. I learned about clinical correlation, I practiced clinical diagnosis, and I met patients within the community with a variety of diseases and conditions. Medical school started three weeks ago, but I already began to realize the white coat, as honorary and symbolic as it is, was not what I should be chasing. Many of the physicians we learn from and almost all the patients I met had no preference for a clinician in a white coat. The only thing patients in pain care about is the person buried within the white coat. I am honored to be training in medicine because it already taught me what matters is a career dedicated to serving those who need the most help not a white coat. At the ceremony, I will wear my white coat proudly and instill in it my oath of dedication to help patients in need. But shortly after that, when I walk into the clinic, I will proudly take my white coat off to sit, listen, and meet patients where they are at.”

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Katharine (Kate) Cashman is a first-year medical student interested in learning more about the intersection between philosophy and medicine as well as palliative care.

“As I reflect on what the white coat means to me, I cannot help but think of an Irish blessing my father used to tell me. “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sunshine warm your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields.” While every challenge and hurdle I have faced to get to this point has often felt anything but the ease this blessing wishes, the one thing that has always remained true has been the support of my family and friends. My parents have always been the wind at my back gently supporting me up every hill. My partner has been the sunshine on my face brightening even the darkest days. My brothers have made what felt like a downpour feel more like a soft rain, giving me exactly what I needed to grow. While I may have had to climb my way up to the road rather than it is rising up to meet me, I have had my wind, sun, and rain to guide me there every step of the way. So, receiving my white coat, while inherently a celebration of my accomplishment, cannot be celebrated without celebrating the ones who have made it possible for me to stand on that stage and accept this next step in my medical journey. To that end, I hope to hold onto this blessing every time I put my white coat on. While I may not be able to make the road rise up for all my patients, I can be the wind on their back, sunshine on their face, and soft rain on their fields, doing all I possibly can to ease their burden. For now, may the white coat rise up to meet me and I to it.”

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Matthew Hudson is an MS1 with an academic background in religion and philosophy. He is interested in psychiatry and neurology, wondering how to better understand patients’ unique experiences and perceptions of illness.

Clinically speaking, white is a preposterous color for a coat. We proudly inherit this old, powerful symbol of authority, but we must also interrogate its message. White may represent hope, but it may also convey detachment, cold purity. This garment, if worn in real service of those in pain, cannot remain pristine. It will be speckled with blood, crusted with vomit, dampened with tears – painted every shade of the human body. We may wash them and iron out their creases, but if we forget the stains that marked them, we erase something of the people we have served. The white coat is a canvas. I don mine knowing that it cannot stay white, that throughout my life it must absorb the entire spectrum of visible light, until every thread recalls a brushstroke.

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Joseph F. Distefano is an MS1 from Guatemala and is interested in OB/GYN.

When thinking about putting on my white coat, I think about the legacy into which I am about to step: the legacy of the medical profession. This legacy is one that inspires dueling feelings within me. I feel immense joy; the coat represents the start of a journey that I have worked so hard to achieve. This journey of practicing medicine, advocating for patients, and working with patients is one after which I have enthusiastically sought, and now I begin it. However, I also feel remorse. The legacy of western medicine is one rooted in white supremacy and colonialism. I cannot help but think of the marginalized who have experienced mistreatment and a deprivation of their rights at the hands of physicians. I am reminded of the unethical medical experiments performed on my people. I am reminded that such mistreatment is not relegated to the history books, that it is happening currently and that I may even witness it during my training. What would my ancestors feel seeing me enter a profession at whose hands they have experienced harm? 

In this recognition, I feel a sense of purpose. I am committed to being a vocal member of the profession of medicine. I will work tirelessly on behalf of my patients, not only to provide the highest quality of care I can, but also to advocate for them when I see their humanity and rights being disrespected. Putting on the white coat comes with the responsibility of reforming the medical profession. Yet, I cannot do it alone; I will need the help of my peers who are also starting this journey today, as well as those who are further ahead in this journey. We will have to support each other as we seek to create the change needed in medicine. 

I put on my white coat not only proud of how far I have come, but also aware of the work yet to come. I am hopefully for the future of medicine, as I know my peers and I will do all we can to leave the legacy of medicine better than how we found it: more accessible, more equitable, and  more just.

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