In White Coat Ceremony, nursing students will take step toward careers

By donning white coats embroidered with the School of Nursing logo and affixing special pins, a cohort of Norwich University nursing students will this week step toward careers of compassionate care.

A White Coat Ceremony, virtual this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, honors undergraduate nurses who have just started, or are set to start, their clinical rotations. During the ceremony, running 3 to 4 p.m. Dec. 10, six students from the accelerated Class of 2020 nursing program; 17 from the accelerated Class of 2021 nursing program; and 49 Class of 2022 students will wear white coats and pins from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to humanistic health care. 

The ceremony, in its third year at Norwich, continues a tradition the Arnold P. Gold Foundation started in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The ceremony, in its third year at Norwich, continues a tradition the Arnold P. Gold Foundation started in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Gold then worked at the college as a professor of clinical neurology and clinical pediatrics. 

Although White Coat Ceremonies at first honored medical students, the foundation in 2014 partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to adopt a White Coat Ceremony for nursing. 

The foundation reports that more than 360 nursing schools now hold White Coat Ceremonies, which welcome students to health care practice and elevate humanism as a core nursing tenet. The Norwich ceremony will include the Nursing Student Oath, which includes a promise to act with compassion and trustworthiness and apply knowledge and skills to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

Norwich Nursing Director Paulette Thabault said keeping humanitarianism at nursing’s forefront aligns with the School of Nursing’s philosophy to train nurses to keep patient care central as they navigate health care’s complexities. The ceremony, she said, heralds the students’ next big step as clinicians. 

An important relationship

In comments prepared for the ceremony, Llynne Kiernan, an associate professor of nursing, said donning the white coat marks the transition from classroom-based instruction to the beginning of hands-on patient care.

nursing white coats 8
Although White Coat Ceremonies at first honored medical students, Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 2014 partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to adopt a White Coat Ceremony for nursing. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“It is entirely fitting that such a transition be marked by a highly visible and distinctive new garment which clearly differentiates the new nurse from a layperson,” she wrote. “Because we are nurses, as evidenced by the distinctive garb we wear, our patients will grant us extraordinary access to their lives, their physical bodies, their worries and concerns, their mental and physical pains.

In an October video, American Association of Medical Colleges President David Skorton said the coronavirus pandemic and social justice struggle have given White Coat Ceremonies new meaning.

“In this context, your humility, your ability to see the humanity that is part of medicine, is more important than ever,” he said. “I hope as you go forward on your … journey, you’ll realize the importance of lifelong learning and the importance of humility and the importance of … the ‘beginner’s mind,’ the openness to all possibilities.”

Keynote address

Norwich’s ceremony will include an American Association of Colleges of Nursing- and Gold Foundation-arranged keynote address by U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., who became the youngest African American woman to serve Congress when she was sworn in in January 2019. Underwood serves on the House committees on Education and Labor, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security and has been a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

nursing oath
In this year’s White Coat Ceremony Oath, as in this one from 2017, Norwich University students will promise to act with compassion and trustworthiness in all aspects of their care. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Underwood, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, has also taught future nurse practitioners through Georgetown University’s online master’s program. In August, she was named to the 2020 class of fellows for the American Academy of Nursing, a group of 2,700 nursing leaders.

“Nurses are at the forefront of promoting health and leading our nation in innovation, science, and policy,” Underwood said in an academy statement.

Norwich senior Brianna Mayo wrote fondly of her White Coat Ceremony in a 2018 “In Their Words” blog. She wrote that her new Gold Foundation pin represented trust, respect and communication and that her new white coat marked a new chapter in her nursing career.

“(The rite) encourages us to keep pushing forward,” she wrote, “and knowing we have a great support system always helps.”

* * *

Nursing student oath:

As a nurse dedicated to providing the highest quality care and services, I solemnly pledge that I will:

  • Consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering my primary concerns;
  • Act in a compassionate and trustworthy manner in all aspects of my care;
  • Apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal outcomes for my patients;
  • Exercise sound professional judgment while abiding by legal and ethical requirements;
  • Accept the lifelong obligation to improve my professional knowledge and competence;
  • Promote, advocate for, and strive to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.

With this pledge, I accept the duties and responsibilities that embody the nursing profession. I take this oath voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.

See the complete list of participants here.



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