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McGill University’s White Coat Ceremony: Dr. Donald Boudreau’s Key Note Address


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By Dr. Donald Boudreau

Dean Allison; Associate Dean Esfandiari; Associate Dean McKee; members and students of the Faculty of Dentistry; award recipients; families and friends:

My first obligation is to thank the Faculty for inviting me to speak at your White Coat Ceremony. I am deeply honored; doubly so, as I am not a member of the dental profession. But, our mission in life ─ for us all ─ is rooted in the healing traditions. We arise from the same trunk. We are members of the same kinship. These facts confer legitimacy for my being here at your podium today.

Dentistry has an illustrious history, as I found out in preparing my talk. Permit me to touch on a few highlights. I have just read about St. Apollonia – the patron saint of dentists and dentistry. The students may be interested to know that a painting of St. Apollonia, holding forceps and an extracted tooth, is to be found in the council room of the Strathcona Building, home of McGill’s Faculty of Dentistry. I was intrigued to learn that the Etruscans, in Tuscany, developed remarkably effective dental prostheses, crafting gold bridges and partial dentures, several centuries Before the Common Era.  I discovered Pierre Fouchard, whose 863 pages, two volume, ‘Le Chirurgien Dentiste’, published in 1728, earned him the title of ‘the father of dentistry’.  I found out that the first dental school in the world was opened in 1840, in Baltimore.1 I was delighted to see that our esteemed institution made a splash in the annals of dental history. It was in 1911 that an English physician, Dr. William Hunter, gave a lecture at McGill’s then Department of Dentistry, in the Faculty of Medicine. His talk sparked an international debate, which eventually evolved into an obsession with oral sepsis. Hunter criticized poorly constructed bridges referring to them as: ‘mausoleums of gold over a mass of sepsis’.2 His criticism so demoralized dentists that for the first time, the profession began to wonder if a medical education, as a preliminary to dental education, might not be a good idea. This is fascinating to me as an educator since it foreshadows where we are today; our dental and medical students are united in studies for the first 18 months of their respective program. 


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Dr. J. Donald Boudreau, MD

Dr. Boudreau is a respirologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, McGill University. He is a graduate of Mount Allison University and received his medical degree from Dalhousie University. He has been involved in medical education, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, for approximately 25 years.  At the undergraduate level, he has held numerous posts in the administration of the M.D,C.M. program at McGill including two terms as Associate Dean, Medical Education and Student Affairs (from 1997 to 2004). He was one of the founders of the White Coat Ceremony at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine in 2001. Dr. Boudreau was awarded a professorship, during the period 2009-2012, by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation – a foundation dedicated to humanism in medicine.

Dr. Boudreau is currently a core member of the McGill Centre for Medical Education. He has 30 peer reviewed publications to his credit. His research interests are varied and include: narrative medicine, clinical method, professionalism and professional identity formation. Recently he has been exploring the various roles that the humanities can assume in the continuum of medical education. 


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