White Coat Ceremony for Nursing symbolizes students' calling

For medical professionals, the white lab coat represents a commitment to scientific rigour and compassionate care while identifying the wearer as a member of a community of professionals. It’s a badge of honor, showing the result of many hard hours of work and dedication. On January 9, the Union College Division of Nursing welcomed 31 new level one nursing students with the division’s second White Coat Ceremony for Nursing.  

Dr. Gold, a medical professor at Columbia University, believed having medical students take the Hippocratic Oath at the end of their studies was far too late. He felt a student’s work as a scientist, healer, and compassionate care-giver really begins at their entry into the program. Dr. Gold created the White Coat Ceremony in 1993 to emphasize the significance of the students’ first steps into a new profession and to invite them to take pride in their calling. While White Coat Ceremonies have been conducted for more than 20 years in other medical professions, the practice has only recently extended to nurses.

In 2014, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation began supporting White Coat Ceremonies for Nursing in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), extending grants to 100 different nursing schools in the first year. In 2015, 60 more schools were added, and another 50 joined in 2016. The Union College Nursing Program applied for the grant in 2016 and was accepted on the first try. Union is the second college in Nebraska to receive this honor. Approval from the foundation comes with a $1,000 grant to assist with the ceremony.

Courtney Fast, a level one nursing student, participated in this semester’s ceremony. “It was great to feel welcomed and that we were a part of something,” Fast said. “It felt like an induction into a new community.”

“The White Coat Ceremony highlights the important role compassion plays in providing patient-centered care and improving health outcomes,” said Dr. Juliann Sebastian, Chair of the AACN Board of Directors in a statement announcing the expansion of white coat ceremony funding in 2016. “With healthcare becoming more interprofessional and team-driven, nurses, physicians, and other providers must embed humanism in their practice as a way to elevate the patient care experience.” The foundation defines humanism as a patient-centric approach to medicine that creates a caring, trustful and respectful relationship between skilled practitioners and patients.

Dr. Nicole Orian, the chair of the Division of Nursing, said in her submission to the Gold Foundation that, “As a nursing program, we have intentionally looked and listened over the years to identify the needs and expectations of the ever-changing healthcare environment. Our nursing program has evolved to meet those needs—all the while remaining committed to graduating nurses who are caring and compassionate as well as prepared and qualified for the roles in which they will practice.”

The Union College Nursing Program accepts approximately 30 students each fall and spring semester. The tradition of the White Coat Ceremony for Nursing will continue to welcome each cohort of new students as they begin their educational preparation for the nursing profession at Union College.

If you'd like to know more about the nursing program, please visit www.ucollege.edu/nursing or call 402.486.2674.