‘From Hippie to Hippocrates’
By some accounts, Dr. Jon Elion recently gave incoming medical students at Brown University a welcome that was personal, comical, musical and emotional.
Elion framed his talk — part of the Alpert Medical School’s annual White Coat Ceremony — around his own days as a medical student, when he was a self-described hippie with “long hair, a beard and a collection of tie-dyed scrub shirts,” according to a copy of the speech that was shared with me.
“I could feel the transformation from hippie to Hippocrates as I slipped on that coat. It gave me a code I could live by,” he told the crowd.
That phrase was echoed when he picked up a guitar to play the Woodstock-era “Teach Your Children Well,” by Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But, as he’s been known to do at other gatherings, he changed the lyrics to reflect the occasion.
“Now they will get their coat/It will denote a code they can live by/But they must remain themselves/A bit enhanced, but no more tie-dye,” he sang.
“Teach your children well/Their med school hell will slowly go by/And feed them multi-choice/The one they pick, the one we’ll grade by.”
He recounted how, as a medical student, his smart-alecky behavior toward a red-haired nurse in the ICU got him reported to a supervisor. But, three months later, that same nurse agreed to marry him. His introduced his wife, Kathy, who was in the audience.
Elion, an internist and cardiologist with Lifepsan, also gave a moving account of an elderly patient dying in an intensive-care unit with her daughter at her bedside.
“For the longest time, I considered my white coat as transformative, covering up and disguising the hippie and turning me into something decidedly more medical. … People in white coats don’t cry.
“So, I turned to walk out of the room so [her daughter] wouldn’t see me crying. To this day, I don’t know why, but I stopped in the doorway instead, turned and went back to the bedside. I decided it was OK to cry, OK to be seen crying. Perhaps people in white coats should cry.”
A few weeks later, the daughter wrote him a thank-you note that he has kept ever since.
“I hope you are involved in teaching new, young doctors,” she wrote. “They will be privileged to learn more than cardiology from you.”
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