What Color is the Sky? Remarks from Dr. Mandell at the 2016 White Coat Ceremony

Fred Mandell, M.D.'61
Fred Mandell, M.D.’64

The White Coat Ceremony for the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2020 was held October 7, 2016, in Ira Allen Chapel. The following are remarks from guest speaker Fred Mandell, M.D.’64, president of the Medical Alumni Association. 

When we leave a place like the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, and look back as alumni, we become keenly aware of the “one of a kind” education we have received. Beyond the tools to practice medicine is what I call “the way.” The way our mentors taught us to listen, to perceive, to think beyond the algorithm. “The way” is more than just the excellent curriculum; it is the feeling about the patient in our care; it is how we reach out; it is how we respond to those who reach out to us.

This has been the signature of the College of Medicine for decades and it continues now – a signature which connects those of you who are about to don white coats for the first time with those of us who have continued to wear the white coats of medicine after we have left. To strengthen that bond, the UVM Medical Alumni Association has established the White Coat Note Project, where one of your predecessors who has gone through the medical school’s hallowed halls writes a note of connection, maybe one of encouragement and even advice to each of you individually, as a way to welcome you into this amazing UVM family.

For my own part, I would like leave my own my white coat story.

Students, today you will be wrapped in the white fabric of the history of medicine, a fabric woven from the ideals and wisdom, the trials and achievements of outstanding predecessors. The medicine you practice, the research you do, is linked to those of your colleagues who preceded you in history, and those who are now working all over the world. It is a spiritual unity with medical journeymen and women of all periods and of all countries that has made medicine so universal.

About that I would like to tell you a story…A young American doctor, me, was working in India and I came upon a small village where a man in white sat on a small stool under a shelter, and the villagers were in line waiting to see him.

I asked my colleague: “Who is that man, the man in white?”

“He is a healer,” my colleague answered.

“I would like to speak with him,” I said. “And I will wait my turn.”

I don’t remember everything we said, but this is what I do remember.

“You are a young medical doctor I understand,” he said.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Close your eyes,” he said to me, and I did. Then he asked simply: “What color is the sky?”

I hesitated. I did not know.  I did not want to be wrong.  I could just say blue, I thought, it usually is. It’s just a little lie and if it’s wrong I could laugh. But I could not, and even though I felt as if I was admitting defeat, I said, “I don’t know.”

“Open your eyes,” he said and he looked directly at me, this man in white, and this is what he said: “You have told the truth. Truth is the root of the medical tree. You have told the truth, son, you will be a healer.”

So today I pass on to you, my colleagues to be in white… be true to the patient and be true to yourself…and remember every once in a while…what color is the sky?

Class of 2020, in the right pocket of your white coat you will find a card with a personal note for you from a predecessor, an alumnus of the College of Medicine.

We hope that you are connected and inspired by their words and reach out to your pocket alum and even to develop a relationship that will provide a UVM continuity throughout your medical career.

Welcome to the family.

See a photo slideshow from the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2020.

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