For 187 fresh-faced new medical students from the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Class of 2018, the act of putting on a white coat signified the beginning of their lives as health-care professionals. At a ceremony held on Aug. 15, 2014 in the Harry & Celesta Pappas Quad, these students received their white coats from faculty leaders to symbolize the trust placed in them by the public.

“This white coat is a symbol of authority — a symbol of empowerment,” Henri Ford, MD, MHA, vice dean for medical education at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, told the assembled students and guests. “But most importantly, it represents a beacon of hope for many suffering patients on hospital wards. The empowerment this white coat brings cannot be fully realized until you learn to exhibit the following qualities: character, compassion, sensitivity, patience, honesty and integrity. These qualities are the essential scaffold of professionalism.”

Keynote speaker Kenji Inaba, MD, associate professor of surgery and emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and 2014 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award recipient, reminded the incoming students that the manner in which they provide care to patients is just as important to the practice of medicine as scientific proficiency and technical training.

“Over the next four years, you are going to go from thinking about why you wanted to do medicine, to actually learning the mechanics of how you practice medicine,” said Inaba. “And the reality is that, in 2014, it requires an unbelievable amount of knowledge, and it’s easy to get caught up in the science of all of this. In your rush to learn and saves lives, I hope that you will think back to this day, and remember the importance of compassion, and the reason you chose to be here today.”

With nervous smiles and eager steps, the students were presented with their coats by Ford, Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, and Donna Elliott, MD, EdD, senior associate dean for student and educational affairs. Proud parents, beaming grandparents, cheering family and friends all snapped photos and shouted hurrahs as the students crossed the stage.

After receiving their coats, the students rose to recite the Hippocratic oath, promising to practice the art of medicine with honor and loyalty.

The Keck School of Medicine’s ceremony was the first of several White Coat Ceremonies scheduled to take place on the Health Sciences and University Park Campuses in the coming weeks.

— By Sara Reeve