To the Editor:
Thank you for publishing Judah L. Goldberg’s thoughtful piece on humanism, professionalism, and the White Coat Ceremony.1 While I agree that it is helpful to avoid the sloppy conflation of professionalism and humanism, whether a White Coat Ceremony promotes one or the other depends on what substantively happens at the ceremony. A white coat can be a coat of many colors depending upon the themes of the program’s address.
Last year, I was honored to give Weill Cornell’s White Coat Ceremony talk.2 When I spoke of the late Dave Rogers’s courageous stand against segregation upon his arrival at Vanderbilt University as its new professor of medicine, my comments were as much about humanism (the import of civil rights) as they were about professionalism (the impact of mentors).
Dave was a mentor to generations of aspiring physicians precisely because he deployed his professionalism in the service of universal humanistic goods and goals. He did not confine himself to a parochial vision of the doctor’s role in society. Humanism was the bedrock of his professionalism.
While professionalism and humanism should not be conflated, might we not benefit from the example of Dr. Rogers’s life and aspire to a brand of professionalism that makes medicine’s humanistic reach felt more broadly in society?
Joseph J. Fins, MD
Chief, Division of Medical Ethics, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York; ([email protected]).
1 Goldenberg JL. Humanism or professionalism? The white coat ceremony and medical education. Acad Med. 2008;83:715–722.
2 Fins JJ. Medical mentors, past and present. Weill Cornell: The Scope. October 2007:6.