President Uchtdorf Lauds “Responsibility, Humanity, Joy” of Doctors’ White Coats

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 2 September 2015

Daniel Evans is “cloaked” by his grandfather, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, during the White Coat Ceremony in the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 28, 2015. Dr. Vivian Lee, senior vice president for Health Sciences, dean of the School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care, watches.  Photo courtesy of University of Utah.

Addressing students beginning their training at the University of Utah School of Medicine, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke August 28 about “the responsibility, humanity, and joy of wearing a white coat.”

“As you put on your white coat—a symbol of healing, knowledge, and compassion—I hope that you will cherish this moment,” said President Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, during a “White Coat Ceremony” for the medical school’s class of 2019.

Family and friends of the new medical students gathered in Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus for the ceremony—a tradition for those entering medical school. In addition to being “cloaked” with a white coat, the future physicians stood and recited the Hippocratic Oath.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, speaks during the White Coat Ceremony in the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 28, 2015. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Dr. Wayne M. Samuelson, vice dean of education; Dr. Vivian Lee, senior vice president for Health Sciences, dean of the School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care; and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, speak after the White Coat Ceremony for new medical students in the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 28, 2015. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, right, greets Vivian S. Lee, dean of the
University of Utah School of Medicine, center; and Wayne M. Samuelson,
vice dean of education for the School of Medicine. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

Class of 2019 medical students leave Kingsbury Hall after the White Coat Ceremony at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 28, 2015. The class of 2019 has 122 medical students. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

“This is the beginning of their entering into the medical profession,” Dr. Wayne M. Samuelson, vice dean of education, told the Church News. “The white coat symbolizes many things—purity, virtue, honesty—but it also sets them apart, and that is what we are after.”

Dr. Vivian S. Lee, dean of the School of Medicine, told the students, “We want to prepare you to learn in this changing world.”

President Uchtdorf, who offered the keynote address during the annual ceremony, said he had two reasons for accepting the invitation to participate in the event.

First, he has two grandsons who are studying at the university—one who has started his second year of medical school, and the other who was “cloaked” with his white coat during the ceremony.

Second, he said, the Church is grateful to the University of Utah and to the medical team of the school, and especially to the many doctors who have “been so influential and beneficial in the lives of so many over the years.”

Beginning his remarks, President Uchtdorf told the audience that one of his favorite authors is J. K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter books.

“One of the scenes that particularly captured my attention was when the new class of wizards enters the great hall at Hogwarts castle for the first time,” he said. “They congregate in a strange, new place and prepare for the sorting ceremony, where a magical wizard’s hat is placed upon their heads preparatory to them being assigned to a house.”

He said as he thought about the white coat ceremony he couldn’t help but see a few similarities.

“For one thing, you don’t receive your white coat at the end of your education—after you have been certified as physicians. You receive it at the beginning of your studies and before you have interacted with patients—at the very threshold of your new life. … From this day forward, you will be defined in large part by your house—your noble medical profession.”

Instead of learning spells, potions, and incantations, medical students will dedicate their life to the pursuit of knowledge and science, he said.

“From this moment on, your primary goal in studying should not be so much to pass a test. … From now on you are learning and studying for the thousands of future patients who will have confidence in you and who will entrust their lives into your care. They will come to you worried and afraid, distressed, and often alone. They will come to you desperate for hope. They will place their very lives in your hands.”

To the future physicians, he added: “You are embarking on a most noble endeavor as you prepare to care for and to cure your fellowmen.”

President Uchtdorf told the group that he struggled with what he should share with them during the ceremony. “I am fully aware that there is very little I could say that will not be said better and more effectively by the outstanding professors, experienced physicians, mentors, and staff you will come to know during your experience here.”

But then he thought of his grandsons and he discovered he has much he would like to share with them.

First, he emphasized the importance of the patient. “I suppose it might be a human tendency for a medical professional to become over time a little desensitized to the people who come to him or her. You might even begin to refer to your patients as the diabetic in room four, or the vertebral fracture in bed two. But these patients are not their disease.”

To be a patient means to be angry, sad, anxious, uncertain, and alone, he said. Doctors see grief, fear, and anger as will few others.

“But patients are also often an amazing example of patience. And patience certainly is an attribute that ennobles the physician,” he said. “From your patients you will also experience the best of what it means to be human. You will see endless courage, faith, hope, and love.”

Class of 2019 medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath after the White Coat Ceremony at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 28, 2015. The class of 2019 has 122 medical students. Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News.

President Uchtdorf told the future doctors to not allow themselves to become tough-skinned or insensitive to the humanity of others. “I hope that you will not allow your profession to get in the way of your humanity. Your profession and your humanity belong together; blending these two will greatly bless you.”

Second, he asked the graduates to never lose their sense of awe, wonder, and joy.

He said during his career as an airline captain, he had the opportunity to be a check and training pilot.

He found that there were those who, even after years of handling the big jets all across the world, never lost the thrill of flying. But there were also a few who seemed merely to be going through the motions.

“They had mastered the systems, the procedures, and the operation of flying, but somewhere along the way they had lost their bliss. They had lost the joy of flying.

“Now, if these pilots met the requirements, I recertified them. But at the same time I felt sorry for them. It seemed to me that they had lost something that was most precious and meaningful to our profession. And that seemed like a very great loss to me.”

Finally, he told the medical students that as they learn “to better understand the greatest miracle of creation—which is the human body—you will always keep within you a sense of wonder and awe about what you do and how you do it.”

Finally, he asked them to take care of themselves.

“Please understand that you must care for yourself if you wish truly to be able to care for others. Take into consideration not only your physical health but also your emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. These are all important and essential components of a well-balanced and healthy human being.”