Submission by Gabrielle Woo (Cornell University)
Last weekend my veterinary class received the symbolic doctor’s “white coat” marking our transition into clinical rotations at the college teaching hospital. We begin clinics on Monday.
At our White Coat Ceremony there were lots of photographs and many congratulations, much applause and more speeches than I can remember. But one particular comment has stayed with me over this week of spring break, and it is this:
Your white coat will only become heavier with time.
This is an exciting but sobering thought. On one hand, I’m thrilled to be able to treat real, breathing, sick animals in need of medical care. On the other hand, I’m struck by the weight of such an enormous responsibility. If I make a mistake, my patient could die. And sometimes, despite my best efforts, my patient will still die. Am I ready to face this?
My father jokes that I look even younger in this weekend’s white coat portraits than I did in my high school graduation photos. You’re still a kid at heart, but soon people will be calling you a Doctor! Thanks Dad. Much as I hate to admit it, he’s right – and in some ways I am glad. The thought of becoming grown-up, cynical, and too bone-tired to care makes me incredibly sad. I have seen it weigh down my friends, colleagues and mentors, and I fear it may happen to me, too.
I become more hopeful when I think about the past few days of spring break, which were my last real holidays for a while. This week held whimsical rambling trail runs and hikes, a couple of still-life photo sessions and not a few conversations with four-legged friends; mornings spent puttering in the kitchen, long afternoon naps and many lovely hours passed with my nose in a book and a drowsy kitty in my lap. There were also beautiful moments of music and laughter and sweet silence with friends as we enjoyed our last few days of vacation together.
In my heart of hearts, I think I am afraid that all these things that carry such joy – running, art, creation, friendships – will be overwhelmed by the demands of learning to be a veterinarian. Over this week, though, as I look ahead to beginning clinical rotations, I remember how excited and scared I felt when I was accepted to vet school at Cornell. Now, three years later, I am reminded yet again of how blessed I am to be among both two-legged and four-legged friends in a profession I love.
I suppose that in the end, the “weight” of my white coat is not, and never has been, mine to carry alone.