MD Program

  • A New Door Opens

    Presentation at the
    White Coat Ceremony
    University of Iowa
    Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine

    Friday August 24 2007

    by
    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 address.

    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 door opens.

    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 thee”.

    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.