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Nursing Students Encouraged to See their Profession as an Art as they Receive Clinical White Coats

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Nursing students smiling in their clinical white coats 740_460
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One doesn’t usually associate Michelangelo’s “The Pieta” with nursing.  But veteran nurse Dr. Lorraine McEvoy sees a connection between the masterpiece and her profession. At Caldwell University’s annual white coat ceremony for junior nursing students on Sept. 6, McEvoy recalled the moving experience of seeing “The Pieta” at the World’s Fair in 1964 when she was a child. Later, when McEvoy decided to become a nurse, she learned that Florence Nightingale associated nursing with the fine arts.

McEvoy quoted Nightingale: “Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion and as hard preparation as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with canvas or marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit?  Nursing is one of the fine arts.” Since Nightingale’s time, said McEvoy, the devotion, preparation and compassion of nursing have “underpinned its evolution to embody the highest and most important art form: care.” Becoming a nurse, said McEvoy, “is one of the most selfless acts a person can undertake.”

The nursing students proudly received their jackets and their Humanism in Medicine pins, a milestone as they begin their clinical work in hospitals and health care centers. The students were cloaked by the nursing faculty, who “personally delivered” the cloaks “as a gift of faith, confidence and compassion,” said Dr. Kathleen Kelly, associate professor and assistant director of the School of Nursing and Public Health. The ritual, she said, is “a reminder of the ideals that have always characterized professional nursing and the mission of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation,” which is the organization that originally made possible the ceremony through a grant and that provides the pins.  Those ideals, said Kelly are, “caring, compassion and humanism toward the people we serve.”

Dr. Brenda Petersen, associate dean of the School of Nursing and Public Health, told the students, parents and other guests that the ceremony was dedicated to Stephanie Faust, a student who passed away over the summer and was to start in the nursing program this fall. An empty seat with Faust’s photo was held as Petersen led the audience in a moment of silence.

Dr. Ellina Chernobilsky, Ph.D., associate vice president for academic affairs, said  the white coat represents the professional integrity of nursing, “a sign that you take your profession seriously.” She told the students that although they may face struggles, they will rise because nursing is “an ongoing journey of learning, honor, humility and a chance to make even the smallest difference in the lives of your patients.”

The students were encouraged by what they heard at the ceremony.

Receiving a “simple coat, a simple pin means so much … especially since I’m following in my mom’s footsteps of becoming a nurse,” said  Jasmin Boukhadcha.

“It was an amazing feeling,” said Butool Usmani. “I hope to thrive, get a good job and help patients.” For Gabriel Angeles, who transferred to Caldwell this year for a second degree, it was “heartwarming” to see such a welcoming faculty.

“I’m very excited to begin the journey, to begin clinicals, to begin the process,” said Stephanie Almazan.

Dr. Nan Childress Orchard, chair of the Music Department, provided the processional and recessional music. Director of Campus Ministry Colleen O’Brien gave the benediction.