August 05, 2019
Excited students, many together with family and friends, were getting ready for the medical school’s White Coat Ceremony* on Thursday afternoon, while an advance team from the school was at the Hobby Center, with last-minute preparations for this very special event. Less than 2 hours before students and faculty were to walk down the aisle at the Hobby Center, we were notified by UT Police of a possible active shooter in downtown Houston, in the vicinity of the venue. We had to make a very quick decision and, with no hesitation, decided to err on the side of caution and safety and cancel the event.
Who would have imagined that less than 48 hours later Texas would be mourning the tragic loss of life to senseless gun violence. A gunman, armed with an AK-47 style rifle, opened fire on Saturday morning, terrorizing shoppers at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. Twenty innocent people lost their lives, and 26 children and adults were injured. And then, only 13 hours later, carnage in Dayton, Ohio left 9 people dead and 27 injured, in just 24 seconds. Absolutely chilling.
What a very sad time for El Paso, for Dayton, for Texas, for Ohio, for our country, for anyone with a heart. The juxtaposition of these tragedies to our White Coat ceremony—a celebration of the human side of medicine—is eerie.
It is poignant to remember that this is not the first UT event that coincided with a Texas tragedy. Our medical school graduation in 2018 occurred the day of the shootings in Sante Fe, Texas. We mourned as we celebrated. Sadness coincided with a day of celebration — A new generation of healers launched on a day of death and unanswered questions.
For some time now physicians and public health professionals have talked about a public health approach to gun violence—similar to the successful public health approach to automobile safety. The time is now and medical professionals have an important role to play. The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM) is a consortium of researchers and health care professionals working to find solutions to curb the epidemic of firearm violence. As a pediatrician and mother, I always think about the safety of our children, but also the emotional toll it takes on all of us to continue to witness these senseless acts.
These latest tragedies bring the now too common discussion about gun violence to our attention again— this time mixed with questions of domestic terrorism and white nationalism— social diseases too complex for medicine but worthy of thought and conversation.
I am grateful that our students, and their families, and our McGovern family are safe. A personal thank you to our Office of Admissions and Student Affairs. This remarkable group of faculty leaders and staff work tirelessly to support student well-being as well as academic success. A special thank you to UT Police, led by Chief William Adcox and his wonderful team. They help me sleep better at night knowing they are always looking out for us.
The White Coat Ceremony—this special rite of passage—is being rescheduled. We promise to celebrate together with our new medical students.
*The White Coat Ceremony was started in 1993 by Dr. Arnold Gold, Founder of the Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine. The white coat is symbolic of the profession of medicine and of the physician’s very privileged role in our profession. The ceremony is an important rite of passage for medical students and has become a tradition at most schools in the United States. Dr. Gold, a child neurologist, founded the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to support the human aspects of medicine—the art as well as the science of medicine. The ceremony is particularly special to me because Dr. Gold was one of the most beloved attending clinicians and teachers at Babies Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in NYC where I trained in pediatrics many years ago. Dr. Gold’s presence at the bedside brought comfort to patients and families. He demonstrated the powerful marriage of skilled clinician and compassionate heart.