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Presentation at the
White Coat Ceremony
University of Iowa
Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine
Friday August 24 2007
Jane Engeldinger, M.D.
Clinical Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be here with you today.
I thank Dr. Cooper for his kind introduction. I also thank the members
of the Gold Humanism Honor Society for inviting me to give this
First of all, I am pleased to welcome you to the University of
Iowa. Many of you have already attended the University, but for those
of you who are entering the University for the first time, I hope that
you will be able to make time to enjoy some of the many offerings and
opportunities outside of medicine of this first rate university. For
those of you who are veterans of the University, please try to continue
your University-wide experiences and contacts. It is quite fitting that
today we are in Clapp Auditorium, one of the University’s showcases
for the arts and entertainment. Next door is Hancher Auditorium, known
throughout the country for its concerts and programs. Both are not that
far from the medical school, so I encourage you to broaden your
horizons and try to attend some events at these wonderful auditoriums.
Second, I wish to welcome you, the class of 2011, to the Roy J. and
Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. You are all new to this part of
the University, which I feel is one of the strongest colleges of the
University. Although I am biased, I think that the physical
facilities, faculty and staff of the college and of the University of
Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are in the top tier for our country.
I also welcome you, the family and friends, of the class of 2011.
Your support has been essential for helping these students achieve
admission to medical school. Your support will be important to their
future success, accomplishments and fulfillment.
Today is definitely a day to remember. You have finished
orientation, your family and friends are here with you for celebration
(and maybe a party or a good meal after this) and you receive your white
coats. Most important, however, is that today is the day that a new
Undoubtedly, you have had many doors open for you over the years.
Why is this new door of medicine particularly important and unique?
The new level of education is one reason. In medicine the amount
of material to learn is vast. For the first time in your life, you will
not master all of the material in your courses. You must take a new
approach to learning, where memorizing facts and formulas, although
still important, is not enough. Much of what you learn now in medical
school will be out of date when you are in residency or out in
practice. The application of your knowledge to patients will not always
be straightforward, according to the textbooks. Your learning will be
challenging, exciting, stimulating, complex and always changing. You
must develop the skills to become a lifelong learner.
Throughout your life in medicine, you will have opportunities to
learn more about yourself, your families and people from many different
walks of life. New insights and understanding of interpersonal
relationships will come through a variety of experiences. For example, I
thought I knew a lot about my father, who died from Type I diabetes
when I was a freshman medical student. After his death, as I studied
diabetes and worked with patients, however, I came to know and
understand my father in a much deeper way. When I completed my
residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, I thought I was pretty good at
relating to the feelings and needs of my patients and their families.
But I quickly discovered, when my mother had ovarian cancer and I became
the “family member” instead of the physician, how much I was about to
learn about a different side of the practice of medicine. My stories of
learning are endless and very important to how and why I value my life
in medicine. I think yours will be too.
A new door opens today because medicine is a career, a profession,
not just a job to support yourself. This profession is especially
demanding, taking as much of your time and emotional and physical energy
as you will give. Sometimes you will give much more than you want or
realize. Finding a balance between your personal life and medicine is a
continuous endeavor. Others will try to aid you, which may or may not
be helpful. Only you can achieve the right balance.
The most important aspect of the new door opening today is that it
lets you enter a world of incredible privilege. You will have the
privilege of being able to help people with one of the most important
elements of their lives, their health. You will be able to cure
disabling and/or life threatening diseases, prevent and relieve
suffering and illness, promote healthy lifestyles, and improve the
quality of lives. If you are really fortunate, you will get to deliver
babies (although I have heard that not all doctors really like to do
that)! You may have the incredible privilege of having people say to
you “You changed my life”.
With the privilege of medicine also comes great responsibility.
You are the one who must stand between your patient and disaster. You
are the one who does not leave the hospital at the end of the day
without checking that your patient’s laboratory tests, which should be
normal, actually are normal. You are the one who is responsible for
keeping yourself healthy and able to function safely, for the sake of
your patients and yourself.
Ten years ago a new freshman medical student, Christi Taylor, came
to this ceremony and received her white coat. She had already been a
member of the medical profession as a pediatric oncology nurse. But her
ultimate goal was to be a physician, so she came to Iowa City with her
husband and two children. I was privileged to meet Christi during her
first week of classes in a Case Based Learning small group, where she
was my student and eventually, good friend. I was privileged to deliver
her third child while she was in medical school. She went to residency
training in Internal Medicine, despite my efforts to have her choose
the “best” specialty, OB-Gyn. During residency she had her fourth
child. Now, while in her first year of private practice, Christi is
leading a major fund raising campaign to support breast and cervical
cancer screening for poor women. She is a very busy woman, but her
husband and children are helping her with this project, as they have
always been an integral part of her medical career. I hope that all of
you will find your way to becoming physicians like Christi Taylor, who
right from the beginning has been able to find a good balance for her
personal and professional lives, and find a way to provide medical care
to more people than just her personal patients.
In the 17th century, John Donne wrote “No man is an Island, entire
of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the Main; if
a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a
Promontory were; as well as if a Manner of thy friends or of thine own
were; any mans Death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the Bell tolls; It tolls for
I memorized this quotation when I was in high school. It has
stayed with me through the many years since, always reminding me of why I
am a physician. As the new door opens for your medical careers and you
enter this life of learning, privilege and responsibility, you will
sometimes hear the bell. I hope you will remember John Donne and know
that it tolls for you. I also hope that you find medicine to be the
great privilege and fulfillment that I have found. Thank you very much.
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