On Saturday, January 6th, Trinity School of Medicine held the white coat ceremony for its first students of 2018. The event was presided over by Trinity dean, Dr. Linda Adkison, and held on the school’s campus on St. Vincent with guests including the honorable Luke Browne, St. Vincent’s minister of Health, Wellness, and the Environment and keynote speaker Dr. A. Cecil Cyrus.
With family and friends in attendance, the new students of Trinity’s small January class were greeted by the Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, the Hon. Luke Browne. Minister Browne praised the students for their commitment to a life in service to others. “I fully commend these students for reaching this stage of their medical studies,” he continued, “I’d like to welcome you again to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We would like you to know that we’re very happy to be your host.” The health minister mentioned the important role played by Trinity, both for the medical education delivered within its walls, and also for the purpose of strengthening the capacity of the health sector in general, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
(For those who aren’t aware, Trinity School of Medicine students play an impactful role in healthcare on the island, through school-organized opportunities like the World Pediatric Project or their own global health outreach undertaken by the various student groups.)
The new students were met with a video of recent graduates discussing their time on Trinity, the things they learned in and out of the classroom, imparting both encouragement and wisdom for navigating the challenges that lay ahead.
The keynote speaker was Dr. A. Cecil Cyrus, a renowned Vincentian surgeon. Now retired, Dr. Cyrus studied at Queen’s University of Belfast and the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh. Dr. Cyrus lead a storied career, both as a surgeon trained abroad and returning home, in this case to St. Vincent, and then as the founder and head of a hospital for 25 years.
Dr. Cyrus spoke at length on what he felt it truly meant to serve as a compassionate physician, noting that in his mind, compassion was a, “Feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another.” He described the life of a compassionate physician as challenging and fascinating keen to impress upon the students that, “Compassion is the cornerstone of the medical practice”.
He noted that while compassion involves always listening, it’s important to listen for the information revealed, not just precisely what the patient is saying. This can include everything from difficult or embarrassing maladies they may be afraid to talk about as well as referred pain or a layperson’s misunderstanding of anatomy, moving through any unspoken self-diagnosis.
(Left to right: Dr. Cecil Cyrus, distinguished guest and keynote speaker; Governor General of St. Vincent, Sir Frederick Ballantyne, MD; Hon. Luke Browne, Minister of Health, Wellness, and the Environment of St. Vincent; Dr. Frances Jack-Edwards, Assoc. Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs; and Keith Hollers, Director of Student Services, Trinity School of Medicine).
He spoke at length on the necessities of the confidence it takes to be a physician, while remaining tempered by humbleness: as a scientist and care giver, physicians are beholden to the best possible outcome, not their egos, up to and including always asking for help when necessary. He then extolled the virtues of a full care team, and reminded the students to show nurse and other mid-level colleagues the respect they deserve as necessary elements of that team, to not allow the burden of responsibility to become the vice of arrogance or dismissal.
In the same vein, he called the “quality and quantity of life” very important. Work in distressing places, he acknowledged, will create the cause to mourn the distressing fact that the quality and quantity of life are too dependent on where one has the fortune to be born or reside. This resonated deeply with Trinity students: The school’s heavy involvement in outreaches with local at-risk populations will often present students with circumstances they cannot rectify, only improve upon. He added that when the only thing a doctor can immediately offer a patient, any patient, but especially patients in a dire financial situation, is to respect them, it becomes the most important thing a doctor can offer.
The presentation was concluded with a quote that he declared to be the precise assessment of a doctor’s mission: “Life is beautiful, to preserve it is beautiful.”
After Dr. Cyrus delivered his keynote address, the students rose to receive their white coats. The symbolic gesture, started almost 30 years ago at the University of Chicago, has spread to medical schools around the US. Having the white coat placed on them by their faculty inducts represents a major change of life and acceleration towards medical students’ future as physicians.