Donning Again Our White Coats: 

Renewing Our Professional Vows


By Anthony Kovatch, MD

Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia



Musical Accompaniment:  “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber (You may recognize this solemn piece of music as the backdrop of intensely emotional scenes from movies of our formative years, “The Elephant Man” and “Platoon”.)


Dear colleagues of the Hahnemann Graduating Class of 1977:

Although I am sorry and almost ashamed that life’s considerations preclude my attendance at our 42 year reunion, I am confident that I will hardly be missed; to be sure, I was the most obscure member of our graduating class, spending most of my first and third years in the library — hanging out by the coffee machines and browsing through dictionaries to avoid time dedicated to studying physiology and pathology.

In actuality, it was over four and a half decades ago that all of us — knowing little of medicine, and even less of love, suffering, and dedication — took our first set of professional vows to devote ourselves to an enterprise so much bigger and loftier than ourselves; unfortunately, only now in the twilight of our careers can we comprehend the measure of and consequences of our devotion.

Since 1993, fledgling students from all walks of medicine have jump-started their careers with the symbolic right of passage into the profession by virtue of the White Coat Ceremony — our inaugural “vows.” Forty-six years later, I vaguely recollect that a coat was handed out to each of us (probably by Doctor Bennett) in the auditorium where we would listen to lectures (thank God for the note-taking service!), take our examinations (“every day in practice is like final exams”), and release our angst watching the antics of “Core Done Blue.” 

I agree whole-heartedly with all  of you that we were fortunate and blessed to sit in this auditorium with colleagues of boundless talent, ambition, and enthusiasm during the “golden age” of medical education, and that, although we were unaware of it at the time, we practiced in a “golden age” that may be gradually receding. It was with sorrowful reflection that I posted this caveat to my youngest son on the occasion of his own White Coat Ceremony last July.

Here is the highlight of the message:

Metaphorically, medicine is a “blood sport.” Just like bullfighting. Running guru, Doctor George Sheehan, has said that running is a blood sport, as is facing death. The analogy is obvious in every marathon run, in any being who is facing the suffering of terminal cancer, with every physician since the beginning of time agonizing over matters regarding life and death or over decisions weighing aggressive treatment versus “watchful waiting.”


If I have learned anything about myself in the past 4-plus decades (remembering that the philosopher believes that “man is the measure of all things”), it is indeed that we must trust a guiding light of some sort throughout the vicissitudes of our careers. I was completely down-and-out after both my parents died during my freshman year, but somehow passed with a “little help from my friends.” (Thank you, Evelyn, for being there for me.)  Although, in our frustration and weariness we criticized and ridiculed our alma mater, Hahnemann was my salvation, waiving my tuition fees for the next 3 years. 

On the eve of our reunion celebration, it is finally time for me to say “THANK YOU” to this venerable institution! Much of those four years I had unconsciously “blacked out” from my memory. But as author William Faulkner said:  “The past is never dead; it’s never even past.”


Sporting the 70’s look on Graduation Day, early June 1977, with my surrogate mother, Aunt Marguerite. Like all our mothers, she wrote in a card “I know you will be a great doctor.” I only hope that in the long run I earned her biased compliment — one of the few I remember from those years of self-abnegation.


Yes, Hahnemann, thank you for the initiation and the guiding light. Thank you for promoting the stamina we so badly needed to acquire at that time. And, thank you especially for instilling in us the pride we needed to sustain us when we doubted ourselves and felt that our emotional stability  was “hanging by a thread” — when we felt spiritually bankrupt because of what we witnessed of the world. As a pediatrician, I experienced vicariously the best and worst of medicine and life (and of myself). But I also realized that it was all just part of “final exams”; that I  would pass the test in the long run if I could maintain my compassion (remembering that the practice of general pediatrics will always be 99% compassion). I remember the words of Death in Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief:

“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”


To a man, we were a talented and fortunate group — we all acquired and took to heart the guiding light of our mentors so to convert our knowledge, support systems, luck, and ambition into meaningful careers. Some of us are in the big clubhouse (the one in the Sky) and deserve a moment of silence at the reunion. Some of us have turned in our clubs for retirement and automatically moved on to new “careers.” Many of us remain on the course, on the last fairway, and are in a prime position to bestow the most important element of learning — wisdom — to our younger associates. Regardless of our station, gratitude will prevail this weekend as we celebrate — even if it is only in spirit!  After 42 years, it is fitting and proper that all of us renew our professional vows and don again our white coats — if only in our imaginations!

We are not now that strength which in old days 

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 

One equal temper of heroic hearts, 

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—-  From “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Congratulation to us all!  We amazed ourselves!


With warmest regards,  

Tony (Forever Obscure)