The white coat ceremony has become an academic ritual in the health professions: a ceremony that signals a transformation of status from ordinary student to that of one studying to become a health professional. While donning the white coat is a sign of a changed role, the white coat is also a powerful symbol of transformation. White is a symbol of purity, and the white coat symbolizes the purity of purpose being affirmed in becoming a health professional. Dentistry is afforded the status of a learned profession as a result of the power dentists possess over patients seeking care; this power is based in sophisticated knowledge. Patients must trust that the dentist's knowledge and skills will be used in their best interest-always to benefit, never to exploit. The white coat symbolizes an affirmation on the part of aspiring dentists that their purpose will be pure and that they can be trusted to honor the tradition of the learned professions in placing the interest of patients above self. Absent an emphasis on the symbolic nature of the white coat ceremony, it can simply become an opportunity to publicly congratulate individuals for their success in gaining entrance to the study of dentistry. By understanding its significance, however, the white coat ceremony can serve as a powerful, meaningful ritual emphasizing the transformation occurring within an individual who is entering the profession of dentistry.

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Published in Journal of Dental Education, v. 78, no. 12, p. 1589-1592.

Reprinted by permission of Journal of Dental Education, Volume 78, no. 12 (Dec. 2014). Copyright 2014 by the American Dental Education Association. http://www.jdentaled.org

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