First-year medical students at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) in Old Westbury received their white coats at an August 23 ceremony that featured remarks by Kevin O’Connor (D.O. ’92, pictured), who serves as Vice President Joseph Biden’s physician.
Before a crowd of families and friends, the 313 students cheered and applauded each other during the coating event at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, N.Y.
O’Connor, a White House physician since 2006, told them a mix of personal and professional stories, laced with humor and practical advice.
“Leave your house without your wallet. Leave without your keys. Leave without your phone,” he said, “but for goodness sake, in medicine as in any profession (but especially in medicine), don’t ever, ever leave without a good dose of humility in your pocket.”
O’Connor, who served as an army family physician, teacher, and flight surgeon, achieved the rank of colonel while serving in the United States Army. He was deployed on numerous combat rotations supporting classified missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia.
He advised the students that their power of touch (in the form of osteopathic manipulative medicine), as well as their ability to physically comfort patients when situations call for it, is a key part of practicing medicine and caring for others.
“Don’t be afraid to hug a patient or place your hand on a shoulder to soothe and comfort.” He then quoted a lesser-known adage from Hippocrates: “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.”
Vice President for Medical Affairs and Global Health Jerry Balentine, D.O., recounted memories involving his own white coat experience as an intern and resident in emergency medicine, including a time he had to explain a grim diagnosis—one he hadn’t learned about in medical school—to a young patient.
“The white coat can weigh quite heavy at times,” said Balentine. “Remember that during your career, you will learn and see things you cannot even imagine today.”
Dean Wolfgang Gilliar, D.O., who administered an oath of commitment, urged the students to embrace their work. “Love what you do and do what you love and your studies will no longer feel like work. Your white coat will give you direction to incredible and unexpected opportunities,” he said.
NYIT President Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., noted that emerging technologies and greater connectivity between patients and doctors are transforming medicine, but that certain basic principles of patient care remain crucial.
“Now and into the future, do demonstrate a physician’s empathy and ability to listen as being crucial for a patient’s health,” he said. “Continue to be students: consider every case and patient an opportunity to learn more and to establish a connection with a person who has sought your professional expertise but who yearns to be heard and respected. This is ‘clinical mindfulness.’ You’ll need to hone this skill whether you see 40 patients daily face-to-face in your practice or clinic or via your iPad.”