The medical school journey began for 152 members of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) Class of 2021 who participated in the White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 14. At the annual event, new students are cloaked in white coats and say the Hippocratic Oath for the first time as their families and friends look on. This year’s White Coat Ceremony took place during the 250th anniversary of P&S and on a date of historical meaning—on Aug. 14, 1767, the governors of King’s College, the forerunner of Columbia, unanimously approved a petition to organize a “School of Physick” at the college. This was the start of medical education at P&S.
The White Coat Ceremony was founded at P&S in 1993 by Arnold P. Gold, MD, professor of clinical neurology and clinical pediatrics, to reinforce in medical students a strong commitment to humanistic practice. He is also the founder of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which has been instrumental in developing, through curriculae, research, conferences, ceremonies, and awards, more than 20 diverse programs that support the education and training of humanistic health care professionals.
At the ceremony, students heard remarks by Dr. Gold; Lee Goldman, MD, the Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor, dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, and Chief Executive of Columbia University Medical Center; Lisa Mellman, MD, senior associate dean for student affairs; Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, MD, University Professor at Columbia University, Kavli Professor and director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, co-director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Laura Forese, MD, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
“Throughout my years in medical school, I spent each summer working in a different psychiatric hospital certain that I would become a psychoanalyst,” said Dr. Kandel, who gave the fourth Fern Feldman Anolick-Gold Foundation Lecture at the ceremony. “In my senior year, when I was allowed to choose a six-month elective—I thought that even the psychoanalyst should know something about the brain—I chose an elective in brain science in a laboratory at Columbia and it blew me away. I never had worked in a laboratory in my life and never had an experience like this. I so enjoyed the idea of planning very simple, even trivial experiments, carrying them out, working with my own hands, inserting electrodes into single cells, hearing the boom, boom, boom of action potentials over the loud speaker as I recorded from individual cells. I absolutely loved it … Even though I went on to complete my residency in psychiatry and I am a psychiatrist, I’ve devoted almost all of my time to basic research and the biology of memory storage. In many ways this biological problem that is so key to psychoanalysis and psychiatry has brought me full circle. So I would encourage you to explore and to be open to new opportunities.”
The P&S Class of 2021 includes 10 students enrolled in the Columbia-Bassett Program, a track launched in 2010 to allow students to combine traditional medical education in New York City with hospital-based outpatient and inpatient clinical education at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Twenty-two percent of the entering class are underrepresented in medicine, and 53 percent are women.
In addition, 15 students entered the MD/PhD dual degree program and three students entered the accelerated three-year PhD-to-MD program for the training of physician-scientists.
Members of the Class of 2021 join us from 33 states, three foreign countries, and one U.S. commonwealth. The students were chosen from among more than 8,250 applicants.