Medical students urged to treat patients with dignity, respect while being mindful of bias

August 06, 2021

A student receives his white coat.

Kumba Adia Hinds, MD ’17, had given birth to her first child and resumed her third year of residency at the University of North Carolina in March 2020 when she learned she’d been exposed to a clinic patient who had undergone a COVID-19 test. Joy gave way to incredible sadness and some soul searching as she handed over the care of her son to her husband and mother and isolated at home.

Hinds, the keynote speaker at the August 5 White Coat Ceremony hosted by the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac, said she wanted to be honest with the 94 aspiring doctors looking to her for encouragement as they begin their own journeys. This year’s class was selected from 9,212 applicants, a 28% increase from last year.

Reflecting on the day she received her white coat and stethoscope, she said, “The reality is that the system that I am now practicing in is different from the one that I suited up in eight short years ago, and it’s likely to change again in another eight years and yet again thereafter.”

For those students who may be wondering how they will realize their dream of becoming a physician within this ever-changing context, she supplied the answer: “You show up as yourself, and you remember that everyone you are treating is loved by someone else.”

Kumba Hinds speaks from a podium during the White Coat ceremony
Kumba Adia Hinds, MD ’17

Hinds, now a primary care physician at Harvard Medical Beth Israel Lahey Health in Boston, said it is incumbent upon doctors to recognize disparities in the health care system.

“When I sat in your seat, I thought that intellect, experience, work ethic, and yes to a certain degree, compassion, were the things that made a doctor great,” she said. “Yes, knowledge and skill matter, but if they were enough, you wouldn’t have two people in the same hospital for the same condition with the same treatment available to them receiving different care, and yet this happens all the time.” 

“Look at COVID-19. The disproportionate impact it has had on communities of color is frankly sinful and highlights the role that social determinants of health — things like racism — play.”

Hinds urged the students to learn from their patients by watching them, talking to them, engaging with them, and recognizing they are “whole humans” with complicated lives.

“As a medical student, you are given more time than you will ever be given in any point in your medical career to talk to patients. Relish it. The information that you glean from these encounters is critical to your patient’s treatment plan — you just don’t know it yet,” she said.

Seungju Hwang, who worked as a researcher at Yale University before applying to Netter, said Hinds’ speech reminded him why he wanted to become a doctor. “I’ve learned that people tend to generate the perception that patients are inherently strong and resilient, but the truth is that they never asked to be strong and resilient. They just want to be treated like human beings, like any other person.”

During the ceremony, attended by families and friends at People’s United Center, Hwang said he felt “the immense privilege and responsibility of being in a position where I can start appreciating and practicing Netter’s philosophy of regarding patients as members of the community rather than their presented conditions. I was incredibly moved by that moment.”

Seungju Hwang wears his white coat and smiles outside after the White Coat ceremony 
Seungju Hwang, first-year medical student

Mark Yeckel, PhD, associate dean for admissions, said he enjoys reading the thousands of applications annually to see what good work prospective students are doing in the community. The Class of 2025 is composed of 63% women, 37% men, and 44% are immigrants or children of immigrants. They come from 50 undergraduate institutions, 23 states, and 18% have postgraduate degrees. Seven are military vets, and the average age is 25.

Before they were cloaked by Netter School faculty and led in the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath, they were welcomed by Phillip Boiselle, MD, the school’s new dean and a professor of medicine. He noted that they are undergoing this rite of passage amidst an increasingly fragile dawn in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Impressively, you have chosen to answer the calling of the medical profession in a time of crisis, when the need for compassionate and humanistic physicians is greater than ever,” Boiselle said.

Besides being in the moment with patients, Hinds cautioned the students to be themselves. “Do not try to fit the mold of what you think a doctor should be … Know what your biases are — we all have them.”

Students listened intently as Hinds told them they would experience some of their highest highs and lowest lows over the next four years.

“You will be the first person to bear witness to the miracle of life and the last face someone sees before they die. There is immense power and privilege that comes with this position, and with that comes immense responsibility,” Hinds said.

“So, I challenge you to do that work now. Find out who you are, what your biases are and what makes you tick so you can be ready to care for other people with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Quinnipiac 2021 White Coat Ceremony video

Watch the Ceremony

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