White Coats Are a Special Symbol of Knowledge and Leadership

Recently, FDA Vice President Dr. Dave Boden spoke to students at the University of Florida College of Dentistry White Coat Ceremony. We post his remarks here as a gracious reminder to all to continue to grow professionally and apply all you’ve learned as you care for your patients, and to strive for excellence every day. Thank you, Dr. Boden!

Good morning everyone! I want to thank all of you for inviting me to help your faculty confer upon each of you a doctor’s white coat. This is a particularly happy occasion for all of us in this room. The energy and enthusiasm of all of you is palpable. This is why we all love teaching pre-doctoral undergraduate dental students.

However, I must caution you. Your acquisition of this white coat is not free. You must earn it: Every. Single. Day. It is a special symbol of knowledge and leadership.

The man who first popularized the White Coat Ceremony some 25 years ago, Dr. Arnold Gold of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, did so because he felt “A physician’s responsibility is to not only to take care of patients, but also to care for patients.” Presenting the white coat was a way to impress upon medical, and now dental students, the importance of applying all their learned knowledge to establish and promote the health and well-being of the patients they will see for the rest of their careers as doctors. For those of us who are faculty and practitioners, it is our symbolic, solemn, yet joyful way of initiating your pathway through corridors of learning containing the knowledge of thousands of years and countless doctors before us.

Just what knowledge do you need to become a doctor? Anatomy? Physiology? Pathology? Pharmacology? Certainly. Anything else? Actually, that is a trick question. The answer is EVERYTHING. For a thousand years, doctors have been honored by their patients as the keepers of special knowledge. Your charge, starting today, is to absorb it all. I can assure you that in modern dentistry, you will use every bit of it sometime in your career, even the material that today makes your eyes roll. Physics, engineering, math, finance, psychology. But also, philosophy, language, literature, art, music, religion. In fact, everything you have experienced since kindergarten: from your classmates and friends, your church, and most importantly, from your greatest teachers— your parents and family. Yes, that is a lot to ask. But everyone you treat depends on your knowledge, and your ability to use it … honorably.

Honor. A concept that seems to have faded a bit recently. But oh-so-necessary if you are to be called doctor. This is symbolized by this pure white coat. For not only are you seen as a repository of vast knowledge, you are also rightly perceived as a trustworthy and responsible leader. You must be in order to gain a patient’s trust to accept your often-invasive care. Honor, trust and responsibility are concepts we really cannot teach you. In fact, these qualities were continuously bestowed upon you by everyone you have interacted with since you were 6 years old. However, we can, as your mentors setting good examples, show you how not to lose them. We always worry about that, because it is all too easy to succumb to temptation. Your patients and colleagues will be perceptive and harsh judges. Once honor and trust are lost by irresponsible action, you will not regain them.

But let us be positive. You are already leaders. You have already demonstrated that by gaining acceptance to this incredible institution. Some of you already have started a family. The concept of leadership and responsibility will penetrate deeply the first time your young son or daughter ask you, “How do I do this, Daddy/Mommy?” You will discover that while leadership can be daunting, it is also very rewarding, because it allows you to have a positive impact. Whether that is with your family, your staff, your community, or your profession. The good news is that it isn’t really that hard. Just remember these basics:

  • Maintain the honor of your profession. All the rest of us are linked to everything you do. Be responsible to your patients and the public. Always.
  • Lead your family and your office team. They look up to you, depend on you, and will support you endlessly.
  • And finally, respect and honor your college. In a great institution like the University of Florida, you will have the opportunity to gain and embrace the knowledge that will make you an outstanding doctor IF you reach for it. I can assure you; you will NOT be spoon-fed in this school. Now go out there and get it and accept nothing less from your professors and yourselves.

From the Florida and American Dental Associations, congratulations on your beginning!

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