SOM Class of 2017

School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony Initiates Class of 2017

Stephanie C. McClure, M.D., FACPSchool of Medicine White Coat Ceremony Address to the Class of 2017 by Stephanie C.McClure, MD, FACP, August 16, 2013

Good morning Class of 2017. Look to your left and look to your right, it is our goal that you all graduate together. This is probably unlike what you heard in undergraduate school. At Meharry, we foster collegiality. Congratulations on your journey so far! It is a great honor to be here with you today.

You are the elite, the brightest of the bright and the most well-rounded students in the nation to have reached this milestone. Having said that—with that being said— that you're elite, some critics of White Coat Ceremonies around the nation believe that the ceremony "creates a sense of entitlement to trust and respect that is unhealthy and may result in elitism that separates patients from caregivers."  I say that is rubbish talk if one is referring to us at our medical school – because they simply just don't know a Meharrian—for Our Motto is, "Worship of God Through Service to Mankind." Meharry has proven time and time again that we are known to graduate three out of every four physicians who return to urban or rural communities to serve others. In addition, we are known to respect and serve all. Indeed, Meharry ranks as one of the highest among all 141 medical schools meeting the social mission of producing physicians who provide primary care and work in doctor shortage areas.

However, don't let your head get too big! To keep you in check though, you must understand that you are not doctors yet; you will not be called doctor until it is earned. However, in the interim, I propose that you should be respected as Ms. and Mr. And, as you interact with me, especially with my patients, you will hear me introduce you as Ms. or Mr. rather than calling you by only your first name.

I would like to thank the medical students' family and friends in the audience today for providing guidance and support in helping your student get to this day.
It is our prayer that you continue that support, as the rigorous part of the journey has only just begun.

Now, I would like to turn your attention to a story that I read on the Arnold P. Gold Foundation website written by Dr. Richard Levin. And it goes something like this:

An elderly woman and her middle-age daughter sat together in the examining room. The cancer doctor was being so kind and upon finishing his examination, he turned to the daughter and asked, "How has she been feeling?" Well, somewhat taken aback, the 80-year-old woman replied, "Uh, excuse me doctor. I may have cancer but my ears and my brain still work. If you want to know how I am, you can ask me directly."

So, though this doctor may have had the technical skills, he certainly sucked at the patient-doctor relationship. So, what is humanism? Humanism is the concern with the interests, needs and the welfare of your fellow being. To help our medical students develop and grow, Meharry fosters the values and virtues of:

  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Collegiality
  • Compassion
  • Accountability

So let's look at—

Mutual respect

As you have already become aware in your anatomy lab, as you work with your first patient, the body of someone who once was living and breathing, you will hold the upmost respect for that individual. You will need to understand you are indeed privileged to be in that lab.


As you participate in your clinical experiences, you will need to recognize and understand you will be in a position to ask patients the most intimate of questions, dwell upon issues that perhaps your patient will share with you and you only. You will examine the patient and during your examinations, you will be observing them and touching them. Again, this is indeed a privilege and you will need to comprehend that you will not abuse that privilege. The word trust is not just a word and it is gained by way of respect.


It should go without saying: Do not lie, steal or cheat. You might very well find yourself in a tight spot. You know, maybe you didn't have time to study or ran out of time to do so and the devil whispers in your ear to cheat. If we don't catch you now, it will catch up with you later and your conscious will eat at you as your behavior is not only unbecoming of a physician but you will also have to answer to God.


You are a Meharrian. You will need to work together to see that person on your left and the person on your right have a strong support system in you and your fellow classmates.


Although the doctor story that I mentioned earlier showed that he was trying to demonstrate compassion, he did the patient great harm by misdirecting that compassion. As you meet with your patients, always treat that patient as you or your loved one would want to be treated.


Your behavior must be that becoming of a physician on campus and off campus. We will nurture you to become competent physicians; however, you and only you are responsible for your actions. You cannot think that your behavior in public is none of Meharry's business when your behavior is reported through the social media. Do you not think that someone is going to Google you as you seek employment to join a clinical practice group or even before you interview for a residency slot?

As we explore accountability, do you know the percent of black males that are here in the Class of 2017, which is a class of over 100 students? The number is around 25 percent. Now, I'm not going to get on my soapbox, as I know that I would be preaching to the choir. So, to the Class of 2017, I task you to be a role model.

During your medical education here, as you see children in the clinics or
as you go out and provide community service, let a young child know, regardless if they are a girl or a boy, that they too can be a physician if they put their mind to it. I did not know that I could be a physician when I was growing up as I never saw a black physician before and the idea never occurred to me that that was an option even though by the time I graduated from high school, I ranked fifth out of a senior class of over 300 and even had perfect attendance. If anything, it was more likely that there were people who either tried intentionally or, unthoughtfully, with presumably good intentions, to discourage me along the way. However, I was fortunate that my parents laid a good strong foundation by making sure that I knew the importance of an education and the importance of going to college. Because you see, my father finished high school and was a janitor until he retired and my mother dropped out of school to take care of her younger siblings and when she got old enough to leave home, she married and helped make ends meet by cleaning other people's homes. They understood the importance of a good education and instilled that in me. And, by the grace of God, I had mentors later who helped guide me toward the pathway of medicine, which I still love today.

So in summary, I would like to conclude by making note of a few of our mentors at Meharry who are here to assist you with this rite of passage.

The White Coat Presenters, who are here with us today, are faculty with a few years of experience all the way up to those faculty between 40-60 years of experience; and you will encounter them again during some point of your profession. Look to them as your role models and mentors. They will encourage you to strive to achieve excellence rather than mediocrity and they will advise you to maintain the upmost professionalism wherever you may be. Although everyone here on this panel of cloakers may not be a physician, they all are responsible to help mold you into the most competent physician you can be. They, nor anyone else can teach you to have a conscious – your parents or guardians were responsible for that. You will, however, see the compassion and the humanity that they, as well as our other faculty, have for their fellow being and we encourage you to emulate those traits..... and, we partner with you to see you succeed.

Thank you very much