Last Thursday, my name badge read "Cardiology Fellow" and today, it reads "Assistant Professor". My wife has pointed out that it is great that I am finally starting my first "real doctor" job. I am the first to admit that I did not awaken any smarter today than I did on Thursday June 30th, but nevertheless, at certain points in medicine we encounter these bright lines of responsibility and authority. I remember, for example, being given my first short white coat at a ceremony after the first couple of weeks of medical school. At the time, we were repeatedly told by the faculty and the event organizers how important of a symbol the white coat is and the deference we should pay to its hallowed place in the institution of modern medicine. What I first noticed was that the thing did not come close to fitting me. Despite pointing out that I am 6'4" and have a 36 inch arm length, my short white coat came down to my waist and ended about 4 inches short of my wrist. My white coat made me look like a doofus.
Eastern Virginia Medical School apparently has an added twist to this phenomenon of the White Coat by holding a white coat burning ceremony at the conclusion of undergraduate medical training (ie: medical school). Nathan Favini points out on a guest post on KevinMD that the intention is to be reverent, a sort of funeral pyre symbolizing yet another metamorphosis into a more complete physician. The small sampling of comments on the post illustrate how the white coat has myriad meanings for different people.