UCSF Vows to Transform White Coat Ceremonies


UCSF recently announced the preliminary results of a years-long, multi-center investigation by the Worldwide Task Force on Unnecessary Ceremonies (WTFUC) on how best to restructure the traditional White Coat Ceremony. Specifically, the study suggests the ceremony probably does slightly more harm than good in its current form, contributing to ego inflation, poor infection control, and numerous fashion no-nos, but larger studies in diverse populations are required before one can be sure.

Most experts agree the stuffy atmosphere created by formally cloaking a beginning student with a crisp, white coat and then asking him/her to reflect on its significance is at least a complete waste of time. The WTFUC report reveals that although the ritual is so archaic in appearance, it is has only been in existence since 1989. Assistant Dean Petiwurees has been charged with the task of assuring the ceremony be transformed into a meaningful and measurable part of students’ professional development.

In an uncharacteristic display of pragmatism, Petiwurees has put forth the following ideas for next year’s ceremony:

1. Use beige or light blue coats so patients who might be intimidated by white coats will feel more comfortable.

2. Have a system of coat alternation so all students get the experience of wearing an ill-fitting coat.

3. Have coats manufactured with pre-fabricated stains, only some of which would be identifiable or socially acceptable.

4. Have a try-on session where students walk with coats loaded with various combinations of books, medical supplies, and electronic devices to find a Pareto optimal.

5. A seminar on how to artfully drape one’s coat over one’s arm while riding the train, so as to create the illusion of not wanting to be asked by a passerby whether he/she is a doctor.

6. Structured feedback sessions immediately following, one month after, and one year after the ceremony, to gauge the short and medium term effects of the proposed changes.

Others have suggested the problem lies not in the ceremony itself, but rather the practice of simultaneously beginning one’s professional training and receiving the very symbol for it. It may be prudent, they claim, for all students interested in the health professions to have a white coat ceremony long before starting professional school, allowing the effect to sink in and wear off before actually arriving at UCSF.

First year medical student Anne Oying-Lee, who worked as a research assistant over the summer for WTFUC, commented on the situation. “I think this just goes to show how awesome UCSF is. They understand how important every part of my experience is as a medical student, and I know I’m going to be the best doctor I can be because of the level of detail they put into every part of my training.”

As for this Staff Humorist, if I’m wearing my coat, I probably didn’t iron my shirt.