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So You Want To Be A Physician?


There have been numerous studies reflecting problems within the medical profession, from racist beliefs that black people have a higher pain threshold than white people to sexist assumptions that women complaining of physical maladies are suffering instead from psychological issues. And there is an undeniable history of physicians engaged in experimentation involving black people like the Tuskegee syphilis study which lasted until 1972, well within memory of many of us alive today.

The medical profession has not always done itself proud in its treatment of minorities and women, and has much to consider about how a profession putatively dedicated to healing could be so blindly harmful.

But as much as a great deal of serious introspection, and a strong dose of reckoning should be part of the education of future physicians so that repugnant assumptions are recognized and eliminated, that every person is treated with the same beneficial care and concern, the mechanism for accomplishing this critical goal isn’t to leap from one ideological failing into another.

The University of Minnesota changed its “white coat ceremony,” the introductory oath given incoming medical students, to a new one prepared by a small group of passionate students.

Every year, incoming students at many medical schools across the country earn their white coats and pledge to “First, do no harm,” in what are known as “white coat ceremonies.” But this year, the University of Minnesota Medical School appears to ask its incoming class to pledge allegiance to a controversial set of ideologies crafted by a small subset of students — ideas with which other students may disagree. If mandatory, this practice would violate dissenting students’ First Amendment rights.

FIRE has taken the lead in recognizing that students at the ceremony are instructed to swear an oath of fealty to some of the most silly, as well as potentially dangerous, indulgences of the woke beliefs. Whether they are required to swear this oath or are merely pressured into doing so by their dean and their fellow students acquiescing in the ceremony isn’t clear, but the fact that their medical school is putting on this performance and they are expected to play their parts, is the indoctrination into a secular religion that has no place in education.

And while University of Minnesota medical school got caught on video, it’s hardly the only medical school changing ceremonies so that its students swear loyalty to political ideology.

That’s what may be happening at UMMS, where administrators said a handful of the hundreds of incoming students prepared this year’s updated Hippocratic Oath for the entire class to read. Student-updated ethics oaths are trending at medical schools nationwide; they go beyond the traditional promises like “do no harm.” Similar student-authored oaths were adopted in recent years at medical schools like HarvardColumbiaWashUPitt Med, and the Icahn School of Medicine.

Putting aside the inanity of land acknowledgements, such as the one the dean mutters to open the ceremony, there are some serious questions raised by what the school expects its students to believe. It’s not enough that they swear not to be racist, but they must swear to be “anti-racist,” the Kendian notion that the only way to undo past racism is to engage in new racism.

They are asked to swear to fight “white supremacy,” which would not be controversial but for the belief that such things as merit, effort, objectivity, correct answers and being timely are now the characteristics of white supremacy. Most of us, black, white or otherwise, would want our physicians to be objective and accurate in our diagnoses and treatment. We would want them to work very hard at being competent, if not highly skilled. And we would surely want them to be on time. Are these no longer traits to be expected of docs who come out of Minnesota?

The video shows students being led by a dean who directs them to stand and recite each word in unison — suggesting recitation of the oath may indeed be mandatory. The students acknowledge they are on indigenous land, vow to fight “white supremacy” and foster a culture of “anti-racism,” and promise to “honor all Indigenous ways of healing that have been historically marginalized by Western medicine.”

Even more concrete is that part of the oath swearing to “honor all indigenous ways of healing,” without regard to whether it can pass muster under the “Western” scientific method of being tested, and the testing reproducible, of its effectiveness and safety. It may well be that there are medical treatments from other cultures that have been dismissed or ignored by western medicine, and it would be foolish not to recognize and use the tools that work, regardless of where they come from. But to swear to “honor all indigenous ways” is unadulterated idiocy, and this small group of students who came up with this woke oath may not deserve to be physicians to whom other people’s lives should be entrusted.

We’re also concerned that these subjectively squishy commitments could become de facto professionalism requirements, and that students could be punished for failing to uphold them. For example, what must a medical student do to adequately practice “anti-racism”? And whatever that may be, if she does not (as UMMS understands that term), could she be dismissed for violating her oath? What if she refuses to take the oath in the first place?

How could any decent person complain that students are expected to swear to be anti-racist and fight white supremacy? As FIRE notes, these are such inherently squishy commitments to ideas that no moral person could challenge that to question this ceremony is tantamount to being racist. Yet, somehow people’s lives and careers are ruined by their failure to adhere to the ideological orthodoxy of what’s deemed “polite” at any given moment. After all the work it took to get to medical school, would any student be so bold as to be against all racism and risk expulsion?


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