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Hugh Dowlen  

Tachycardia. I say that not only because my heart is racing right now – it’s such a privilege to speak to you guys today – but also because that word is a part of the new vocabulary, the medical lexicon of the profession you are entering. You will learn to think in a new way, to describe in anatomic orientation, to sort out normal from abnormal, health from pathology. You will encounter a wealth of new information and take part in entirely novel experiences.

You will receive your white coats, and you will be a healthcare provider. Your white coat is short (I’ve only worn my longer one for a couple of months now as a new intern, having just begun residency myself). To many patients, you will be their doctor. You will correct them, “No I’m just a medical student.” To which some patients and their loved ones at bedside might reply, “OK, thanks doc. We really appreciate all you’re doing.” You can make such a huge impact in patient care by taking the time to listen, to use the luxury of time you have compared to residents and attending physicians who simply cannot devote as much time to interacting with patients, their friends and family. Your role is appreciated.

Your white coat represents your role as a physician-in-training, and you are a member of that community from day one and will receive the collective praise and criticism from many people you encounter. Your white coat also represents you as an individual. You will remain yourself, and you can personalize your white coat as a brief introduction to those you come in contact with. You will receive a lapel pin from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation as a reminder of what it means to practice Humanism in Medicine. You can add other decorations to tell the world a little bit about yourself. I proudly wear my camel pin given to me as a part of the Summer Insitute for Medical Students at the Betty Ford Center, an academic  experiential look into the alcohol and drug recovery culture, and every day I am reminded of how the camel begins and ends its days on its knees and is the symbol of spirituality for those who know they are not alone in their daily struggles, whatever they may be. I also wear my blood donation pin from the American Red Cross to promote and remind myself of the gift of life and how so many of my sick patients depend upon others’ donations for health and survival. Emblems on your white coat could be from sports teams, philanthropic efforts, or messages of nonprofit organizations. The options are limitless.

And while wearing your white coat, you will find yourself constantly in unfamiliar circumstances. You will be uncomfortable. A lot. Maybe even most of the time. You will grow to become increasingly more comfortable in your own skin as you enter into the most private details of patients’ lives. The sacredness of listening to someone tell their story while they give their history of present illness, of the laying on of hands in the physical exam; these are amazing moments, and you will grow in professionalism even as you become more of who you already are.

As one of my professors likes to say, “Whatever it is that makes you you, keep doing that in medical school.” Classmates of mine have hiked Kilimanjaro, played in symphony orchestras, run in the Boston Marathon. And the even more important areas of life, the sometimes less celebrated amidst busyness but so crucial pieces of one’s personal life, these can’t simply be paused in medical school. Many of you, as have many of my colleagues, will in this next four years get married, welcome a child into the world, or bury a loved one.

And so thanks again for listening to me today. Four short years ago I was right where you all are, full of eager anticipation of what is to come. What a challenging and rewarding adventure lies ahead. I am honored to call you colleagues. Thank you.


 Hugh Dowlen

Hugh Dowlen
Year of Medical/PA School:
WFSM ’15; Internal Medicine PGY-1
Chattanooga, Tennessee
College Attended:Davidson College
Favorite Quote: “Here is the world / Beautiful and terrible things will happen / Don’t be afraid” –Frederick Buechner
Fun Fact: I love to run and water ski.



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Last Updated: 08-22-2016
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