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Saturday, December 4, 2010

White Coat Ceremony for Cornell's Veterinary Class of 2012

How and when did Cornell’s White Coat tradition begin?

When I became dean in 1997, I had never heard about this symbolic coating of medical students at the beginning of their professional education, though it had been inaugurated by Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons four years earlier. 

Members of Class of 2012 celebrate their new white coats
December 4, 2010.
 Washington State University’s veterinary college had also adopted the practice and, in 2002, Dr. Richard Grambow, Chair of our College Advisory Council, became aware of it while visiting WSU where his daughter was on the faculty. He was so impressed that he promoted the idea with the alumni association and our executive staff, and we all thought it was a great idea. From the beginning, it was embraced as a joint alumni-college event with the alumni association providing the white coats and the college sponsoring the venue and reception.

We had our first ceremony seven years ago, in 2004. Rather than have the event during first-year orientation as happens at other medical schools and at WSU’s veterinary college, we decided the ceremony should mark the successful completion of the first two and one-half years of study, when the third-year students embark on clinical rotations. The first Saturday in December was selected.

This year Dr. Jonathan May, president of the Executive Board of the Alumni Association, assisted Dean Kotlikoff with the ceremony. Student-selected guests―in some cases, mentors from their home practices and in other cases, college faculty―coated the students, while family members fixed Cornell pins on the lapels. Professor Tsegaye Habtemariam, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health at Tuskegee University, presented the keynote address.

Dean Tsegaye Habtemariam, Tuskegee University
Keynote speaker, White Coat Ceremony 2010
As in the past six years, today has been a celebration for the students, their friends and family, and mentors. The event continues to strengthen the bond between Cornell alumni and the college’s faculty and students. As Dr. Grambow said when I spoke to him today at his home in North Carolina, “I am so happy to have had a role in the development of this tradition. I believe the White Coat Ceremony has been a ‘win-win event’ for all elements of the College and their alumni.”