UIndy celebrates its fourth and largest White Coat Ceremony

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The University of Indianapolis Nursing Program celebrated its fourth biannual White Coat Ceremony, presented by Franciscan Health for the first time this year. After receiving a grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 2021, the nursing program implemented the White Coat Ceremony in Spring 2022 and was able to celebrate it once more on Oct. 5 with some different aspects added to it this year.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of White Coat Ceremonies across the nation, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation thinks of the ceremony as a rite of passage. Started by Arnold P. Gold after seeing the impact that technology had on the empathy of nurses, the Gold Foundation’s initiative is to illustrate the importance of patient care before they say the Hippocratic Oath, according to their website. According to the Gold Foundation, Arnold P. Gold believed reciting the Hippocratic Oath at graduation was too late in their education, so having a ceremony earlier in their education would allow there to be an emphasis on the importance of compassion in patient care at the start of medical training.

Associate Professor of Nursing Toni Morris said she applied for the grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation after seeing the application in an email from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Morris said the faculty left for the summer break and returned to hear that they had been selected to receive a one-time grant to hold the ceremony at UIndy. Morris explained that there was a lot of work, teamwork and thought that needed to go into the celebration, as it had never been done at the university before.

“Each individual school is allowed to design their own ceremony, so we did a lot of research,” Morris said. “There was myself, Dr. Morrel and Dr. Darnell [who] decided to join me on the mission to do this. We did a lot of research to figure out what other nursing schools do. Where do they hold it in their program? … It just really depends on the school and who applies, but they’re elevating all health professions which is really great. We decided that it would make most sense for us to have it the first semester of the junior year for our students because they’re transitioning from the simulation lab into the hospital.”

Morris said that placement of the ceremony in students’ junior year was significant as it is a point of evolution of their education, and it puts their work from the simulation lab into practice with real patients in hospitals. The White Coat Ceremony was not always extended to nursing students, according to the Gold Foundation, but instead it used to be limited to physicians. The goal of having a ceremony, however, is to highlight humanism in the care of all patients, according to the foundation. Morris said it is an incredibly important subject to keep in mind, and it is reinforced through the ceremony.

“Hopefully it inspires the students, and it reinforces the importance of having the compassionate care … the compassion and the kindness at the core of the care they’re delivering,” Morris said. “Because healthcare is rapidly evolving with technology with different equipment, and nurses are stressed and taxed at the bedside. Sometimes it can get lost just because of the nature of where we are in our profession at the point and moment.”

Interim Undergraduate Program Director and Assistant Professor of Nursing Laura Darnell, also spoke about the implementation and significance of the White Coat Ceremony at UIndy and said she hopes that the ceremony will offer encouragement for the nursing students. She said it is a great opportunity to give students the motivation to continue on throughout their careers. 

“We found that it was nice to put [the ceremony] midway through our nursing program because it kind of recognizes them after they’ve had a really difficult semester,” Darnell said. “It helps them move forward, gives them that motivation they need to continue on and to keep going.” 

While the original purpose of the ceremony is to keep humanity within medicine, UIndy also uses it as a motivator and way to recognize the work the nursing students have put in thus far, according to Darnell. Morris said she knows that this ceremony can also recognize the efforts and support of loved ones, parents and family.

“It’s an opportunity for parents, family members and loved ones to enjoy that evening,” Morris said. “It’s an acknowledgement for them because some people do travel in the world alone, but, for the majority, most people do not and they’ve had some type of help at some point along the way.”

Junior Raegan Melton is adorned in her white coat by Dr. Laura Darnell at the White Coat Ceremony. Each student participating in the ceremony takes the Oath To Compassionate Care shortly after being dressed in their coat. This year’s ceremony honored 64 students, and hosted over 400 attendees.
Photo by Breanna Emmett

According to Morris, the students received a Gold Foundation pin that they pin on themselves, received a red rose, got coated by the program director and took their place on risers on the stage. After all the students were in their places, they recited the Oath to Compassionate Care in unison. Morris said that this is done to ensure that they keep the interest of the patient as well as the patients and family at the core of what they do now as well as when they become professional nurses.

Darnell said this year’s ceremony will have an additional dedication for two nursing students, Tabor Lock and Riley Duerstock, who lost their lives within the past year. She said this dedication will be a way to keep these students’ memories in the program, and that there will be seats set aside on the stage for them among their peers. 

“We’re going to have a special dedication during the ceremony for two students who we’ve lost this past year,” Darnell said. “… They will be getting white roses, we’re going to have two chairs set aside for them. We’re going to drape their coat over the chair, still keeping them in the lineup.”

According to Darnell, this year had the highest number of student participants in the history of the ceremony, and she was happy to recognize so many students who have made it this far towards their education. Morris also said she was happy to see such a large number of students in this year’s ceremony. She said that what is most impactful to many people when they are in the hospital are the people who took care of them.

“We are part of the hospital bill, but if you ask most people about their hospital stay, they will tell you about the nurse that took care of them,” Morris said. “So it’s an opportunity for us to let our students know that they are very valued. …It’s an opportunity for us to acknowledge the hard work because nursing school is really hard, and it takes a special person to be a nurse. It’s a way for us to kind of give back to them.”

Tribute from the ceremony program contributed by Toni Morris

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