October 16, 2023

Juniors from the Conway School of Nursing at the Catholic University of America participated in a Blessing of the Hands and White Coat ceremony Oct.13, in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

During the ceremony, Sandra O’Brien, clinical assistant professor of nursing, gave some history of the white coat ceremony and its purpose. In the 19th century, the white coat symbolized credibility for doctors. Now, earning it is a right of passage for many health care professionals worldwide. At the beginning of her speech, O’Brien spoke about what it means to be a health care professional. “It takes a special individual to fill the role of a health care provider, and it takes a special commitment to care for others with caring, compassion, and competency.”

As faces turned to their families and cameras in the crowd, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Having spent years getting prepared for clinical practice, the nursing Class of 2025 took a crucial step in the advancement of their careers, all guided by alumni, faculty, family, and University President Peter K. Kilpatrick, who remarked on what it means to be a health care professional working with Christ as a guide for their care.

President Kilpatrick’s remarks were centered around the nurse’s respect for life. Since October is Respect Life Month, the president  referred to  nurses as individuals with a passion for respecting life created in the image of Christ. “There will never be a replacement for bedside nursing.There will always be a need for that personal care that recognizes our patients as full persons.” This bedside care is at the core of what the nurse does, and it is as important now as it has ever been. Calling the nurses to “live out your nursing as people who respect life” is a perfect message to leave them with as they begin their clinical journey.

Nursing students gathered after the Oct. 13 ceremony. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

Themes of care and healing in the name of Christ were continued in the speech given by Conway School of Nursing Dean Marie Nolan. “Beloved students, my prayer is that you will see today and always how your hands and your entire being has been blessed to advance the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to all entrusted to your care.”

After these reflections on the healing ministry of Christ, students had their hands blessed by Father Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., Vice President of Ministry and Mission and University chaplain, and received their Nightingale Lamps, the same style of lamp used by Florence Nightingale while she cared for patients during the Crimean War. Eileen Caulfield, associate dean undergraduate students in the nursing school, described the lamps as “symbolic of what we do as nurses.”

Nursing students received Nightingale Lamps, the same style of lamp used by Florence Nightingale while she cared for patients during the Crimean War. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

After these remarks, the nursing students joined in saying the Nurses’ Pledge for the first time in their collegiate careers. The ceremony was closed with remarks by O’Brien and a prayer from Father Aquinas.

October’s title of Respect Life Month makes it the fitting to recognize the continued accomplishments of the nursing Class of 2025. As they continue their career, they are surrounded by smiling family members, patients, mentors, and Christ; these ever-present figures will continue to play a critical role in the nurses’ practice and continue to heal and learn in the name of Jesus Christ.