Following the pomp and circumstance of elaborate processionals, the music echoing across packed pews of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, incoming Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine medical students listened and waited. Their new faculty members and future peers, costumed in ornate robes, took to a lectern and spoke on the virtues of the field of medicine.
Following those remarks, the students made their own weighty wardrobe change. With the help of second-year students, incoming M1s in each college in the Feinberg School of Medicine stood up and, for the first time in medical school, donned a white coat. It is shorter than the one a doctor wears, but the attire is still substantial; it symbolizes their introduction into the profession.
As they look forward to their careers, four Northwestern M1s reflected on the path to the moment and the road ahead. Here’s some of their insight.
Caroline Carlson is the first person in her family to enter the profession. To her, the white coat marks a sense of achievement.
“Anyone who has gone through the premed process, the challenge of getting here—just getting to medical school seems almost insurmountable at times,” Carlson said. “We are all here at one of the best medical schools in the country, but we probably all had doubts that we would make it here. There’s financial obstacles and academic obstacles, but to be able to say someone looked at you and what you’ve accomplished and wanted you here is a very nice thing.”
“Achieving the career of a physician is a very long road and this is just the start,” Carlson said.
An MD-PhD student embarking on an eight-year training program, Sammer Marzouk pondered the potential to contribute to medicine’s future.
“We each bring our own meaning to the white coat. We are going to bring different things to each patient interaction and each clinical opportunity,” he said. “There’s so much we can bring to the field of medicine on the whole, whether it’s the research we do, the political advocacy, drug development and things of that nature. This day is a blank slate; we can make so much of it.”
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On the heels of COVID-19 public health emergency that has been politicized, M1 Dillan Prasad said he hopes to help make those conversations less acrimonious.
“Science, to me, is a social contract, which is a delicate balance between the people and the physicians and other interests of our country,” Prasad said. “Right now, that social contract is more imbalanced than it ever has been. Though that concerns me, it gives me more optimism that there is more room than ever for improvement. I hope to play a role right at the interface between physicians, the general public and policymakers to bring that change to light.”
Another Northwestern M1, Jodhel Destina, echoed those sentiments.
“COVID is a big reason I ended up in medicine,” he said. “There has been a lot of mistrust toward the scientific community as a whole. I hope that I along with my peers can help remedy that and restore trust by keeping an open dialogue with our patients.”