Dean’s Speech: MBBS White Coat Ceremony 2022

18 September 2022

School principals, teachers, parents, colleagues of the Faculty of Medicine at HKU, students, ladies and gentleman

I have the greatest pleasure to officiate this White Coat Ceremony for you, students of the class of 2028, here at the Grand Hall and in the presence of your parents and school teachers! This is not an announcement or a celebration ceremony of you joining the MBBS programme; we have done this already 2 weeks ago. This is an occasion when you declare you have chosen medicine as your career and what it means to you, your colleagues and, most importantly, your future patients.

Many of you may not know that physicians only started wearing a white coat in the late 1800's. Before that, doctors wore black as such attire was, and is still, considered formal. A medical encounter was a serious and formal matter though unfortunately, medicine that was practised before the turn of the last century was seldom based on science. With advances in medical sciences and the appreciation of bacterial contamination being a major cause of fever and post-surgical complications, doctors, and similarly nurses, started wearing white. Thus, the white coat signified a change in the practice of medicine, from one that was based on bogus ‘cures’ to one that is built on biomedical sciences. It is interesting, however, that in recent years the white coat is found to be just as bad a vehicle for carrying germs around the clinics and the hospital wards, so much that hospital trusts in the UK advised against the wearing of a white coat in clinical settings 15 years ago.

So, why are we still here this morning?

The White Coat Ceremony is indeed a rite of passage handed down by Dr Arnold P. Gold who was Professor of Clinical Neurology and Paediatrics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1993, he inaugurated the first White Coat Ceremony to highlight the importance of professionalism and humanism in medicine at the very beginning of medical school training. His ideals resonated with medical training institutions all around the world, and today, the ceremony is observed in all areas of healthcare education and training.

This morning, as you don your white coat, I want you to reflect on the reasons you chose to be a doctor and what that means. Your new job brief is taking care of patients. Your White Coat signifies your entry to healthcare practice in medicine. It also symbolises your unwavering commitment to future patients - something we call professionalism.

Allow me to deviate a little. The British, and some of us and others from around the world, have been mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. We understand that her age was very advanced and that her eventual demise was inevitable. But many of you will remember that it was only two days before she deceased that the Queen formally appointed Ms Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and that she was pictured beaming as she met the new Premier at Balmoral Castle. Some of you would also have noticed the bruises on the back of her hand, suggesting that she was receiving some intravenous treatment at the time. This was, in my eyes, professionalism! Your being donned the white coat as our future doctors is no different to the Queen being crowned 70 years ago. May the Queen rest in peace!

The Ceremony this morning is also your solemn promise to uphold humanism in every act of care you bestow on the sick and needy. As from today, you are entrusted to serve your community with heart and humbleness, and be guided by ethical and professional conduct at all times. It is also your pledge to be life-long learners, and to pass on this knowledge to the next generation. These values are not just for your training here but for the entire length of your career. The White Coat should be viewed not as a burden but a privilege to serve your fellow man. To serve with Empathy, Equality and Excellence in scientific knowledge.

These are some of the pledges that you will make when we read the Declaration of Geneva later together. In addition, I would like to highlight and remind you of two other key values as a doctor. First, you will treat your colleagues as sisters and brothers, which is a major reason why we are doing this together here this morning. This Ceremony signifies the brotherhood that you will and should foster with one other. By this, I do not just mean those around you but also those of us on this stage; in not just the next 6 years but beyond. Let me remind you that this respect and comradeship is mutual as we, your teachers, have also sworn the same Declaration many years ago! We will make sure that you are supported throughout your time with us. That the Teaching & Learning Deanery will constantly review the curriculum to ensure it is fit for purpose to allow you to grow and mature as tomorrow’s doctors. That your academic advisors will guide you through your studies and ensure you are always prepared, such as in the various summative assessments. That your Enrichment Year Advisors will support your EY options, be it an intercalated degree programme with an overseas academic institution, service learning and humanitarian work, or the undertaking of a biomedical research programme. That your clinical tutors will help you transit smoothly into the clinical years on your return from EY, and eventually into internship. That all of us will keep our doors always open.

Another important reminder that I have for you is that you must look after yourself during your time with you. You will find life tough, sometimes very tough, as a medical student. There will be times when you find uncertainties, disappointments and even failures. As Steve Jobs, the Apple Founder, once said “sometimes, life is going to hit you in the head with a brick”. Along my personal journey, I have also been hit many times with bricks and even boulders! I shared with you my stories during Orientation and I am not going to repeat them again today. Suffice to say that through these hard times, I learned resilience & perseverance. My experience has also taught me that often when one door closes another window opens.

Let me share with you this great poem by Emily Dickinson:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

So, never lose hope, and seize every opportunity that is thrown at you; no matter how small or insignificant; and to take comfort in family and friends.

While on the family, allow me to now share a few words with the parents who are here …. (I will speak in Chinese for two minutes)

Let me return to our Class of 2028 and state one more time that we will support you as a student, future colleague and as an individual. Your journey to becoming a doctor will be one paved

  • with awe at the scientific discoveries you will make along the way;

  • with laughter and respect for the life-long friendships you will forge with fellow students, future colleagues and teachers; and

  • with personal bests;

HKUMed is your home away from home – a place where you learn, work and rejuvenate, surrounded by colleagues, friends, faculty and support staff
to make you feel proud as a member of HKUMed family from this day onwards.

Thank you and good luck!