The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

UTRGV School of Medicine

History & Significance of the White Coat Ceremony

“The Arnold P. Gold Foundation established the White Coat Ceremony in 1993 as a way to welcome new students into the most noble of professions – medicine.

The most important element of the ceremony is the oath that students take in front of family members, school leadership and peers. The oath acknowledges their primary role as care givers. The Ceremony and the oath serve as a rite of passage and are further commemorated by lapel pins that the Foundation supplies to students at all ceremonies. The pins contain an inscription about humanism in medicine and serve as a visual reminder to students that in order to deliver the best care to their patients, compassion and empathy must be the hallmark of their clinical practice. Schools choose how to commemorate the ceremony – whether it be with the presentation of a white coat to each student or some other icon of medicine, such as a stethoscope.

The first full-fledged White Coat Ceremony took place at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons at the urging of Dr. Arnold P. Gold, who was then Professor of Clinical Neurology and Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Columbia. At the time, Dr. Gold noted that the existing practice of having students take the Hippocratic oath at the end of their medical training occurred four years too late. Grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped advance the White Coat Ceremony far beyond Columbia. In just a few years the ceremony was adopted by nearly every medical school in North America.

Today, a White Coat Ceremony or similar rite of passage takes place at 97% of AAMC-accredited schools of medicine in the United States and Canada, as well as at several osteopathic schools of medicine, medical schools in 13 other countries, Physician Assistant Programs and, most recently, at a growing number of Nursing Schools. In 2014 the Gold Foundation partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to support a pilot program that has seen 160 nursing schools adopt the Gold-AACN White Coat Ceremony for Nursing.

In 2014 the Arnold P. Gold Foundation partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to support a pilot program that has seen 160 new nursing schools adopt the Gold-AACN White Coat Ceremony for Nursing.”

White Coats: What does the length mean?

Generally, the “white coat” comes in three lengths.  The first is a hip-length jacket that signifies the beginning of the students’ journey through medical school.  When a student graduates and commences their residency program, they receive a mid-length coat.  Upon completion of the residency and the passing of required board certifications and licensing, the medical doctor earns the honor of wearing the ‘long coat.’   These are only guidelines and not requirements.