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J Med Ethics. 2002 Feb;28(1):5-9.

White coat ceremonies: a second opinion.

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  • 1Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.


A "white coat" ceremony functions as a rite of passage for students entering medical school. This comment provides a second option in response to the earlier, more enthusiastic, discussion of the ceremony by Raanan Gillon. While these ceremonies may serve important sociological functions, they raise three serious problems: whether the professional oath or "affirmation of professional commitment" taken in this setting has any legitimacy, how a sponsor of such a ceremony would know which oath or affirmation to administer, and what the moral implications of this "bonding process" are. I argue that the initiation oath is morally meaningless if students are not aware of its content in advance, that different students ought to commit to different oaths, and that bonding of students to the medical profession necessarily separates them from identification with lay people who will be their patients.

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