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Cindy Vance
IU School of Optometry Director of Student Administration

Last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Donning the White Coat

Feb. 14, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- On Saturday, Feb. 16, second-year Optometry students at Indiana University Bloomington will celebrate a big milestone in their education. More than 70 students will participate in a traditional white coat ceremony, which marks the beginning of the clinical phase of their careers.

"This is a very special occasion for the students," said Cindy Vance, director of student administration in the IU School of Optometry. "They have worked very hard to get to this point."

Optometry White Coat

Donning the white coat marks the beginning of the clinical phase of a student's career.

In order to begin working in a clinical setting with patients, each student must first pass a competency exam that includes a full, unassisted examination with a faculty member. Once completed, students will begin the final 2.5 years of their optometry degrees.

The relatively young tradition began at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993. During medical graduation ceremonies, every new doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath, which outlines a doctor's responsibility to his patients and to "first, do no harm." However, Dr. Arnold Gold, a Columbia professor, believed the oath came too late, and that student should undergo a similar ceremony before working with patients, as a student. His solution was the white coat ceremony.

The tradition is now common in health profession schools throughout the country. The ceremony is meant to mark a student's transition into a profession that demands a higher standard of humanism and professionalism.

"It's kind of a rite of passage," said IU Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs Ed Marshall, who also is an optometry professor. "When cloaked, students are ceremoniously acknowledging their role as members of the healing profession. They're saying, 'I'm putting on this white coat and I am now committed to professionalism and public service.'"

The School of Optometry's White Coat Ceremony will be held in Alumni Hall at the Indiana Memorial Union at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Besides dinner and a presentation on the history of the event by Dr. Marshall, a speech will be given by Dr. Joan Korb, an IU alumna and former president of the American Academy of Optometry, the first woman to hold the position.