Ellie Schmidt received her white coat in August 2017. Now in her second year at the OHSU School of Medicine, Ellie shares what brought her to medicine, the biggest lesson she's learned so far, and how the experience of the white coat ceremony continues to nourish her a full year later.
What motivated you to enter the field of medicine? What led you to OHSU? What area of medicine are you planning to go into, if you know?
In some ways my path to medicine was circuitous, yet in others, quite unsurprising. My parents are both retired pediatricians who loved their work. Growing up, discussions about unusual symptoms or atypical diagnoses were commonplace around the kitchen table, and I learned about the joys as well as the challenges of the profession. I had always harbored the thought of becoming a doctor, but when I got to college, I felt compelled to establish my own unique identity. I felt as though becoming a physician would be too predictable. I was eager to forge my own path 3,000 miles from home.
I took a few Economics courses, and I felt a thrill studying something so unfamiliar and new, dare I say rebellious coming from the liberal Pacific Northwest. After graduating I was offered an Analyst position in Colgate’s Investment Office, which oversees the University’s endowment portfolio. I spent three years working as an Investment Analyst before pivoting to medicine.
I was motivated to enter the field of medicine because I want to do work that aligns with my worldview and impacts the world positively. Medicine calls to me because of the joy that results from being able to help others in a competent and meaningful way. I am drawn to medicine because it is a field where I am stimulated intellectually, am challenged daily, and develop meaningful relationships.
I was attracted to OHSU because of its innovative curriculum, its collaborative culture and, of course, its location. It has proven invaluable to have the support of my family and friends while undertaking this next adventure of medical school.
In terms of what area of medicine I intend to pursue, I am a proud “undifferentiated stem cell.” We are exposed to so many fields in our first year, and all I can say is many of them have piqued my interest. I am looking forward to my time on the wards to more deeply cultivate my professional interests.
What were you feeling leading up to and during your white coat ceremony?
The White Coat ceremony was an exciting day for the class of 2021. After years of prerequisite courses, MCAT preparation, application essays, and ultimately a notice of admission, we were finally all here at OHSU about to embark on a transformational journey.
A few days before the ceremony, we were given our crisp, brand spankin’ new white coats at the CLSB. The excitement was palpable. As I write this now, I have an indelible image in my head of the bright grins of my classmates, trying on their very own white coats for the first time. It was a happy day.
At the White Coat ceremony a few days later, I think this sense of enthusiasm was paired with a more subdued respect that aligned with the gravity of the moment. I soon recognized the larger importance of this event for the institution, for our families, for our support networks and communities who had buoyed us along on our journeys. It was a powerful and symbolic ceremony that ushered the beginning of our paths in medicine and allowed that beginning moment to be shared with others.
How much has changed since that milestone day for you?
I often think about that day — now, almost a year behind me. The idealism and energy of a first-year medical class is special.
I have tried to bottle-up the overwhelming gratitude and possibility that I felt on the day of the White Coat ceremony. I use it to nourish me when I just don’t think I’ll be able to memorize the branches of the brachial plexus or keep in mind side effects of antiarrhythmic drugs.
Medical school has challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. However, armed with curiosity, humility, and the joy of new friendships, this first year has strengthened my resolve that medicine is what I am cut out for.
What has been the biggest surprise or revelation for you about medical school?
A surprise for me about medical school is how much is still unknown about the body and disease processes. I am continually humbled by that reality.
I also have a budding appreciation of the nuances involved in providing care, or, as some call it, the art of medicine. Before medical school, I figured people were either sick or not sick, and that the role of doctors was to make sick people healthy.
While that is a noble aim, I am realizing now how idealistic and perhaps unrealistic that is. What does it mean to make someone with a chronic illness better? How do we navigate the trade-offs between longevity and quality of life? How do we best support patient autonomy? I am learning that the role of a physician is ultimately to help others, and there are indeed many forms that takes.
Gifts from donors help make the White Coat ceremony possible. What would you say to them if you could talk to them right now?
The White Coat ceremony was our first formal entrance into the medical profession. It was a humbling feeling to receive a white coat, meaning, to feel included in this professional community and to be entrusted with the privileges and responsibilities of this vocation. I want to thank the donors who helped make the White Coat Ceremony possible. That generosity enabled a swell of pride in my class as we stood to be recognized for our first steps on a life-long journey of learning and service to others.