The world in which Harvard Medical School’s newest students will pursue medical careers may be transformed in ways that are unimaginable today, but in his welcoming remarks at the traditional White Coat ceremony in late August, Jeffrey S. Flier, HMS dean, assured members of the School’s Class of 2017 that they will be well equipped to shape the future of medicine.
“Medical science and medical practice are undergoing profound changes,” Flier told the medical, dental, and doctoral students who gathered for the ceremony, “and these will continue to accelerate through your training years. This is a time when physicians and scientists, including our newest ones, will be called upon to demonstrate leadership if society is to tackle some of its toughest problems. I’m confident you are all up to the challenge.”
While Flier and other speakers encouraged the students to embrace—and influence—the coming changes, Jules Dienstag, the Carl W. Walker Professor of Medicine and dean for medical education at HMS, provided perspective with a history lesson. Dienstag traced a time line of the School, from the days when lectures were delivered in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew to anyone who could pay a fee, through today, when the students sitting before him represented less than 4 percent of the 5,779 applicants seeking admission to the School.
Just as the medical school occupied several locations in Boston and Cambridge before settling into the marble buildings that now frame the Quad, its philosophy of medical education has also evolved, Dienstag said. He invited students to participate in the new pedagogic models being developed to emphasize team-based learning and to help provide leadership in medical education for generations to come. Students entering HMS this fall will be part of the first class to have access to a new clinical skills center.
“We are very excited about who you will become,” Dienstag said. “We know you have already been leaders before coming here. We have high expectations of you.”
Flier underscored the need for new solutions to pressing problems in medicine, despite the explosion of knowledge in such medically relevant fields as regenerative biology, genomics, neuroscience, and systems biology.
Before heading to Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the patient clinic, the students met in their societies to put on their white coats, an enduring tradition amid a changing world.
“Donning a white coat signifies a remarkable transition in your lives,” Dienstag said in parting. “Wearing a white coat—a healer’s cloak—bestows a mantle of privilege into the life of a patient.