A similar rite of passage is now developing in the nursing profession.
This week, the Rutgers School of Nursing, Newark and New Brunswick, held its inaugural "white coat ceremony" in Newark -- cloaking 50 nurses pursuing advanced practice degrees as they, too, took an oath to promote humanism as health care providers.
“The white coat serves as a constant reminder that despite significant achievements in science and technology, it’s all about the patient,” says Mercedes Echevarria, assistant professor and associate dean of advanced nursing practice. “We must always remember the need for compassion, empathy and altruism in all interactions.”
Rutgers is among the first 100 nursing schools selected to implement white coat ceremonies with the support of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which are promoting the white coat initiative through partnerships announced last year. The Gold Foundation, an international not-for-profit organization, launched the white coat ceremonies for medical students in 1993 to underscore the importance of humanistic, patient-centered health care.
“Inviting nursing into this initiative sends a clear message that all health professionals have an essential role to play in providing compassionate care,” says AACN President Eileen T. Breslin.
Rutgers chose to conduct its inaugural white coat ceremony at the point when its advanced practice nursing students – licensed nurses seeking master’s or doctoral degrees – are starting clinical rotations in their chosen specialties: psychiatry and mental health, pediatrics, family medicine, gerontology, women’s health, midwifery or acute care.
In taking the oath, the nurses pledged to act compassionately and in a trustworthy manner, to advocate for their patients and to “strive to achieve experiences and outcomes that are as humane as they are scientifically proficient and technologically sophisticated.”
Echevarria said it is significant that white coat ceremonies for nurses are being implemented across the country as a strategic shift in health care is occurring nationwide – with an emphasis on community and population-based models to deliver quality health care more cost effectively.
“It doesn’t matter what medication is prescribed, or what test is ordered,” she says, “We must learn that the treatment should align with how the patient is feeling and what the patient can afford.”
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