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White Coat Ceremony Marks Official Start of Medical School

AUGUST 11, 2014 – A POET, SKI INSTRUCTOR and journalist were among the members of Georgetown’s School of Medicine Class of 2018 who gathered Aug. 8 for the white coat ceremony marking the official start of their careers as medical students.

This year, 196 students from 30 states, the District of Columbia and six countries outside the United States donned the coats, followed by a recitation of the Hippocratic oath.

“In taking the oath, you’re committing yourself to the highest standards of the profession. You’ll become a professional today – now,” said Dr. Donald Knowlan, emeritus professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) who delivered the Edmund D. Pellegrino White Coat Lecture. “A professional is someone who accepts the responsibility, the obligation and the sacrifices that go with the privilege to study and to practice medicine.”

Amy Prescott is "coated" by her parents, who are wearing their white coats.Amy Prescott is "coated" by her parents, Dr. Charlotte Dillis (M'81) and Dr. John Prescott (C'77, M'81).

The female-to-male ratio of incoming students is split nearly evenly, with 97 women and 99 men making up the class of 2018. Five students did their undergraduate work at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS), and one student completed her master’s in health systems administration at NHS.

CURA PERSONALIS TRADITION

The class joins a “community of scholar-healers guided by cura personalis,” said Dr. Howard Federoff, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine. Cura personalis refers to the Jesuit concept of “care of the whole person” – mind, body and spirit.

“At Georgetown you will …. study and work side-by-side with individuals from different disciplines and within a team-based framework,"  Federoff said.  "You will integrate educational excellence, ethics and a commitment to community.” 

Dr. Stephen Ray Mitchell, dean for medical education, reminded the students that the coat “is a powerful thing.”

“The name on your coat is not for your patients,” he said. “It’s to remind you who you are. Periodically you need to look down [and] remember that in order to give to others, you need to give to yourself and take care of yourself.”

A FAMILY TRADITION

Amy Prescott’s (M’18) parents, Dr. John Prescott (C’77, M’81) and Dr. Charlotte Dillis (M’81) helped their daughter slip into her coat during the ceremony.

“My parents have always cultivated my natural sense of curiosity, and encouraged me to ask questions," the new medical student explained. "They have embodied cura personalis, so it has become important for me to study somewhere where their same values are lived out every day.” 

She said she plans to immerse herself in Georgetown’s spirit of service to others and volunteer with the HOYA Clinic led by medical students for underserved patients in Washington, D.C.

“We hope Amy and all of her classmates remain lifelong learners committed to Georgetown's core values and those of the medical profession,"  said John Prescott, chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. "These include respect, compassion, dignity, humility and the realization of the wonderful privilege it is to serve others.” 

Henry Claude Francois (M'18) stand with his brother, left, and his father, right.First-year medical center student Henry Claude Francois (M'18), center attends the white coat ceremony with his brother, Jean Giroux Francois, left, and his father, Jean Claude Francois.

CARING FOR THE UNDERSERVED

Henry Claude Francois (M’18), who grew up in a small Haitian village, said the scarcity of medical care fueled his desire to become a doctor.

Though he and his brother moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, he said memories of his native country stayed with him.

“There was only one physician and he had the impossible task of responding to the health care needs of everyone in the village,"  Francois explained.

"So many people died just from a simple infection because there was no one there to care for them. ... I wanted to be that person who takes on the challenge and do the best that I can to alleviate their pain.”

Francois, whose father flew in from Haiti for the ceremony, is planning a career in cardiology. He said the white coat ceremony is “the beginning of a long journey” along a path that requires “nothing but the best of me at all times.”