Patient purpose: The importance of a white coat

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Driven by a passion for helping others, Sarah Valerie has just taken one of the most symbolic steps on her path to becoming a doctor.

The 24-year-old University of Melbourne medical student was recently presented with a white coat, signalling the transition from study to clinical training.

Sarah said she was honoured to receive the coat at a ceremony at Epworth HealthCare in Victoria, alongside 18 other medical students.

“It felt like such an achievement and a milestone,” she said.

“Everyone was just so welcoming, and we really feel like part of the team. My family are calling me ‘doctor’ already.”

Growing up in Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of East Africa, Sarah said a love of community was instilled in her at an early age.

“I grew up in a house full of teachers and pastors, my parents were always helping others and were part of every charity,” she said.

“My teachers really opened my mind to a love of science, and I helped organise donations for charities when I was in high school, so I think it all just flowed from there – how I was raised and that love of science. 

“It seemed very natural to me to get into this field.

“I also spent some time when I was 18 living on a ship, volunteering around the world. I started studying medicine in Paris, and now here I am in Australia.”

Sarah said she was particularly interested in becoming a cardiologist.

“My country, Mauritius, also suffers so much from health issues, despite the health system being free.

“Eighty percent of deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases, and I have seen people suffer and die while I was growing up.

“We’re not as attuned to our health as we could be, and cardiovascular problems can easily be prevented,” she said.

“I have a lot of interest in cardiology, and also since coming to Epworth and being here, it’s really opened my eyes to other areas as well, like women’s health, and the provision of sexual health. 

“It’s really been inspiring being here.”

Epworth HealthCare's Group Chief Executive, Dr Lachlan Henderson, said the white coat was an important symbol for the trainee doctors.

“It means, we entrust our patients to you,” he said.

“Our purpose at Epworth is every patient matters. Every decision I make, I think about how it impacts on patients and their families.” 

Epworth's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Luis Prado, said students would have direct access to some of the best clinicians in their fields, who volunteer to teach the trainees. 

“Our medical students will be part of the Epworth family for next three years, until graduation,” he said.

“Many come back to work at Epworth and one day, they themselves will teach future generations.”

As well as studying medicine, Sarah runs her own consulting company and does modelling and acting part-time. She already has an eye on her future ambitions.

“I have a few different ideas for what I’d like to do after university,” she said.

“I’d like to work here in Australia for a while and then I would like to go home for a bit, to be closer to Mum and help provide cardiovascular health in my country.

“And I also like the idea of working on Mercy Ships, because I feel really inspired by their mission, which is to provide surgery to everyone.

“Five billion people on this planet cannot access safe surgery. 

“So, to be able to change that and also be able to help train other professionals in the right way of doing things. 

“I think each time we come forward in life, we should bring someone with us.”

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