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An Oath is Born

The Sworn Identity: Einstein's First-Years Create Their Own Oath

Einstein’s newest crop of students – the class of 2015 – recently undertook a rite of passage marking their entry into the medical profession, at the annual "On Becoming a Physician" ceremony. At the event, the students received their physician’s white coat, which will signal to all they meet on the wards of Einstein hospital affiliates that they are doctors-in-training. The evening culminated with the recitation of an oath whose creation involved the entire class working together during orientation week.

Students worked in groups to create their class oath
Students worked in groups to create their class oath
As part of the oath-creating process, the students were presented scenarios designed to encourage dialogue around defining their professional identities. For example, when asked "How should a doctor respond upon walking into an exam room to find a sobbing, emotionally overwrought patient," Ethan Hoch suggested, "It's important not to overstep your bounds and try to give advice about something you're not an expert at. It would be important to give as much comfort and try to help the patient through your physical exam, but you shouldn't try to give psychological counseling."

And, when asked, "How about communicating with a patient when there is a language barrier," Jennifer Yee offered, "There's always a balance between not talking down to a patient, but also not spewing medical jargon that they won't understand. I know a lot of physicians draw diagrams and do the best they can to explain things to patients." To get the students started, Dr. Elizabeth Kitsis, director of bioethics education, delivered a lively lecture encompassing references to the comedy Zoolander, philosopher Sartre and U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis. She noted, "To be a member of a profession has significant implications. In order to join a profession, students have to form a professional identity and that's what we hope to do through the oath-creation process."

Now in its second year at Einstein, the oath-creation program arose from a desire to introduce the concept of professionalism to medical students early in their careers. "Other medical schools have developed this approach and I was fortunate that faculty at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine invited me to watch their oath-creation workshop," explained Dr. Kitsis. "We then implemented our own program last year."

Following the lecture, students were divided into teams of 10 to take part in the workshops in which the thought-provoking vignettes were put forth to aid them in deconstructing professionalism into key elements. From there, the class created a unified list of professional themes and crafted the oath.

During the ceremony held in Robbins Auditorium on August 22, the Class of 2015 donned their white coats for the first time. Then, in unison, they recited their vow to treat their future patients with integrity, empathy and dignity, and pledged to maintain humble hearts, open minds and to tirelessly advocate for patients.

Their words rang out 183 voices strong, for this was not a dusty oath performed by rote. It was their creation, based on their collective ideas of professionalism.

The Class of 2015 recites their class oath at the On Becoming a Physician ceremony
The Class of 2015 prepares to recite their class oath at the "On Becoming a Physician" ceremony
Their work, however, is not over. Dr. Nadine T. Katz, senior associate dean for student academic affairs, who presided over the recitation of the oath, observed, "We’ll be keeping their oath alive by revisiting it at various times throughout their years here. The class of 2014 will soon be doing so with their oath for the first time."

"It was amazing to listen to them recite their oath in unison at the 'On Becoming a Physician Ceremony,'" acknowledged Dr. Kitsis. "Over a few short days, this large, diverse group of students who had never before worked together – the Class of 2015 – collaborated to create an inspirational oath that captures many of the elements of professionalism that we hope they will display as they become physicians."

Offering the student perspective, Mr. Hoch noted, "It was a valuable experience to reflect upon what qualities we value as physicians. Through our group discussions I gained a better understanding of what patients expect of and admire in their doctors. And, reciting our class oath was inspiring and unifying."

Oath of the Class of 2015

As I put on my white coat for the first time, I wholeheartedly devote myself to the medical profession. I pledge to serve with both compassion and creativity, keeping in mind that true healing can only come through care of the whole person, cura personalis. I will care for my patients with integrity and empathy. With a humble heart and an open mind, I vow not only to educate my patients, but also to learn from them in return. Never forgetting that trust must be earned, I will treat all people with dignity.

My stethoscope connects my ears to my patients' hearts. In order to heal, I will listen to the needs of my patients, adapting to their unique cultural values. I will tirelessly advocate for my patients, with the understanding that the health of the individual is reflected in the wellbeing of the community. I shall strive to build bridges through communication and sensitivity.

Soon, the pockets of my coat will overflow with the instruments of healing. So too, will I gather the knowledge and experience required to deliver the highest level of care. I will seek out the wisdom of my colleagues and be an active voice through collaboration and innovation. As my coat becomes worn, I will forever remain a passionate student of medicine.

As a member of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Class of 2015, I pledge to live this oath.

Posted on: Friday, September 23, 2011