Louisville Medicine Volume 67, Issue 5 - Page 6

REFLECTIONS ON THE WHITE COAT AND THE CARE OF THE PATIENT A s president of GLMS, there are several ceremonies in which you participate. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the University of Louisville School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony. This event welcomes incom- ing first-year medical students and presents them with their first white coat (courtesy of GLMS). The second ceremony was the “Wear the White Coat Experience” in which community leaders from Louisville shadow GLMS physi- cians for a day in order to experience a day-in-the-life. Although my comments were brief at both events, the ceremonies caused me to think seriously about the concept of the “white coat.” What does this mantle stand for and what does it mean? During my preparation, specifically for the medical student White Coat Ceremony, I handed the draft of my speech over to my trusted copy editor, content editor and anything-else editor, my wife, Dr. Carolyn Burns. I am truly grateful for her help in smoothing out the rough edges of the requisite articles for Lou- isville Medicine. She handed me the rather heavily edited speech, and I noted she had included a quote by Francis W. Peabody, MD. The quote was from the publication “The Care of the Patient” tak- en from a series of talks before the students of the Harvard Med- ical School in 1927: “The treatment of a disease may be entirely impersonal; the care of a patient must be completely personal.” (1) This resonated with me. It compelled me to learn more about Dr. Peabody and to consider his words more thoughtfully. The first paragraph of this publication caught my eye: “The most common criticisms made at present by older practitioners is that young graduates have been taught a great deal about the mechanism of disease, but very little about the practice of medicine, or to put it more bluntly, they are too “scientific” and do not know how to take care of patients.” Was what he said to the Harvard medical students in 1927 still relevant to our current medical students? Was what 4 LOUISVILLE MEDICINE he said over 90 years ago relevant to the modern physician with our highly technical approach to patient care? If so, what action should be taken to ensure we teach the concepts of patient care to medical trainees in a well-rounded and compassionate way? How do we assure ourselves we will do the same in our own practices? After reading Dr. Peabody’s essay, I concluded his statements are, indeed, relevant to health care today. His discussion regarding the impact of emotional dysfunction on the physiological being is quite appropriate for today’s physicians given the high levels of anxiety and depression in our society. I have personally witnessed how we unfortunately overlook the emotional aspects of our pa- tient care, concentrating more on laboratory results, ancillary tests or the ever-present electronic medical record. We must remind ourselves not to ignore the link between physical, emotional and mental well-being. This is where the science and art of medicine conjoin. We should remember that we can gain significant insight from publications written almost a century ago. Dr. Peabody’s article is clearly a treasure to the medical community that should be re- quired reading for all medical students and practicing physicians. I believe the best way to close is by quoting his final sentence: “One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in hu- manity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” Dr. Burns is a private practice ophthalmologist. His practice, Middletown Eye Care, is located in Middletown, KY. 1) Peabody FW. The care of the patient. JAMA 1927; 88: 877-882. Dr. Francis Peabody was an American physician with extensive research in- terests in typhoid and poliomyelitis. Historically, he is one of the most quoted physicians from Harvard Medical School.