I felt surprisingly nervous as I approached Dr. Gregory Polites, who was holding my white coat, ready to cloak me in front of my classmates, professors and family. After two full weeks of orientation, I felt excited and ready to begin learning the science of medicine. However, during those moments as I walked across the stage, the weight of the white coat became real to me. I was no longer pre-med. I now had the honor of being a medical student.
While I wear this white coat in my years here at Washington University School of Medicine, my professors will invest valuable time and effort in my education. These professors have many important demands on their time, from patient care to research projects, but they choose to spend hours each week teaching me the sciences and the art of practicing medicine. Even more importantly, patients will come to me with their deepest concerns and share the most personal parts of their lives, despite the fact I am just in the beginning stages of learning medicine. In this sense, the white coat is a bit heavy. I hope that I can live up to the confidence others have in me.
We began orientation with the Washington University Medical Plunge (WUMP), a one-week program that served as an introduction to public health and an overview of the health disparities in St. Louis. As is the case with most of my classmates, I am new to St. Louis. Throughout that first week, I heard members of the St. Louis community tell their stories, and I saw firsthand just how influential social determinants of health truly are. My experience during WUMP fueled a desire to become an active member of my new community rather than just a visiting student.
As a white-coat-bearing student-physician, I will have the opportunity to serve others’ physical needs in a very intimate way. WUMP was a reminder that to treat a specific illness in a patient, I first must consider the patient as an individual with a unique background, culture and set of values. I have been told my patients will be my greatest teachers, and I aspire to always approach them with an open mind, ready to learn from their experiences and to be their advocate as we work together for better health.
Rather than allowing my white coat to become a barrier of any kind, I will strive to use my white coat as a key, unlocking doors that typically might not open to a 22-year-old from small-town Missouri. Earning my medical doctorate will give me the knowledge and position to make a positive difference in the lives of each of my patients and, I hope, my entire community.
Anna Arnaud is a first-year medical student at the School of Medicine. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Arkansas and is from Monett, in southwestern Missouri.