Healthcare professionals have an immense responsibility to the patients and the communities they serve. To fulfill that responsibility, providers follow a strong ethical framework to guide their decisions in these challenging professions.
In recognition of their commitment to patients, a recent Gallup poll found that nursing is the top trusted profession, with 79% of U.S. adults agreeing that they have ‘very high’ or ‘high’ honesty and ethical standards, followed by medical doctors and pharmacists. The three healthcare-related fields are the only professions on the list in addition to high school teachers that are rated highly among the majority of Americans.
At West Virginia University, students enrolled in the School of Nursing, School of Medicine and School of Pharmacy complete extensive coursework in healthcare ethics and affirm their commitment to others by taking an oath as part of their academic journey.
Honoring patients, providers and self
The nursing pledge is a formal commitment to demonstrate and respect the moral principles of the profession. Specifically, the WVU School of Nursing Pledge speaks to integrity, compassion, ethics, patient advocacy and lifelong learning. The presentation of white coats during the ceremony symbolizes compassion and human connection.
“Being a nurse isn’t just a job,” Joanne Watson, director of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, said. “It is part of one’s soul. The pledge embodies the idea that you are part of a community of like-minded givers.”
For students, the ceremony is an important milestone that they reflect on throughout their careers.
“The ceremony honors the dedication, hard work and persistence of myself and each of my peers,” Hannah Ramsey said. “Nurses are seen as the most trusted in healthcare, so this also gives us the chance to fulfill this idea, by taking oath into the profession in front of our family, friends and instructors.”
“The pledge ceremony, to me, represents committing myself to realizing a dream that I previously thought I wasn't cut out for, but with a whole new outlook and determination,” Miguel Carunungan said.
A nontraditional student who served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, Carunungan started his journey in nursing nearly a decade ago before enlisting in the military and volunteering in emergency medical service work that eventually led him back to the field.
“Nursing is more than a profession — it is a calling and a commitment to improve the lives of others," Dean and E. Jane Martin Endowed Professor Tara Hulsey said. "Being ranked the most trusted profession for more than two decades is a true testament to the passion nurses have for patient care.”
Cloaked in compassion
The School of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony is designed to help students reaffirm their reasons for choosing medicine as their life’s work. Contrary to the conventional white coat ceremony, WVU’s ceremony honors second year students and marks the transition from basic sciences to clinical sciences—from reading about illness and disease to diagnosing it, and from learning about treatments to prescribing them. The ceremony stresses the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and the relevance of the white coat as a cloak of compassion.
During the ceremony, students recite the Oath of Hippocrates, pledging to uphold professional ethical standards.
A celebrated tradition of the ceremony encourages alumni and faculty of the School of Medicine to sponsor a white coat for a medical student which includes a handwritten note or card with words of inspiration, encouragement and advice as the student enters clinical practice.
“I remember it being a really great moment in medical school,” Dr. Eric Seachrist, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, said. “Putting on the coat has so much meaning and symbolism behind it.
“The handwritten cards left in the coat pocket are a memorable experience and I was very appreciative of the advice,” Seachrist said.
Symbolic of healing
School of Pharmacy students at WVU participate in two ceremonies throughout their academic journey that symbolize their dedication to the profession and their patients.
Following New Student Orientation, the white coat ceremony signifies a student's entry into pharmacy school and a commitment to be a healthcare professional who will develop, deliver and monitor medications to improve patients’ health, well-being and quality of life. The ceremony includes the Pledge of Professionalism as a guiding beacon for the next four years and beyond – committing to build and reinforce a professional identity founded on integrity, ethical behavior and honor.
After completing their third year of coursework, the group transitions from Doctor of Pharmacy students to Doctor of Pharmacy candidates as they participate in the Bowl of Hygeia Ceremony. The ceremony marks the beginning of the practice portion of curriculum and the final year of their pharmacy education, and it concludes with students, faculty and pharmacists in attendance joining in the Oath of the Pharmacist.
The oath emphasizes a pharmacist’s duty to hold the profession’s moral, ethical and legal conduct to the highest standards.
“The oath is a reminder to use our training, experience and compassion to the fullest in our commitment to the well-being of all those we serve,” Mary Euler, professor and associate dean for admissions and student affairs, said.
The Bowl of Hygeia’s name originates from the Greek goddess of health, Hygeia, whose primary role was to prepare or compound a healing medicine and then offer it to the patient. Her traditional symbol is a bowl containing a medicinal potion along with the serpent of Wisdom – the same serpent which appears on the staff of Asclepius, the symbol of medicine.
The WVU School of Pharmacy offers accredited programs leading to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Doctor of Philosophy degree programs and residency programs for individuals wishing to pursue advanced clinical skills and training.
Supporting students to improve patient care
Students enrolled at WVU Health Sciences benefit from extensive instruction about ethical and legal issues in healthcare. WVU’s Center for Health Ethics and Law serves as a resource for practitioners when they are confronted with difficult medical decisions by clarifying the facts and values relevant to making these decisions. In addition, WVU supports the West Virginia Network of Ethics Committees in assisting hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and home healthcare agencies to strengthen ethics committees and providing education regarding ethical and legal issues in healthcare to promote ethically sound decision making.
WVU’s five health schools – Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health – in collaboration with its research centers and institutes – represent the embodiment of the University’s mission to serve with purpose and are constantly adapting to focus education and training efforts to improve patient outcomes.
To learn more about WVU Health Sciences and its five health schools, visit health.wvu.edu.
Photo at top: The David and Jo Ann Shaw Center for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety at West Virginia University provides experiential learning that allows healthcare students and professionals to practice life-saving procedures, develop communication skills and use new technologies, before they get into patient care environments. Inter-professional education is highlighted as nurses, physicians, pharmacists and other members of an integrated healthcare team train together as they will work in the healthcare setting. (WVU Photo)
CONTACT: Jessica Wilmoth
Senior Communications Specialist
WVU Health Sciences