The Medical and Health Profession: Why Doctors Wear White Coats

Most of the time, we often identify one’s profession by the uniform he/she is wearing—black coats for lawyers, police khaki uniforms, white coats for doctors, and so much more. But have you ever wondered why doctors wear white coats? 

What are white coats?

Also known as laboratory coats, white coats are knee-length smocks or overcoats worn by professionals in medicine or laboratory works. The coats are designed to protect their ordinary day to day clothes and generally serve as their basic uniforms. White coats are made from white linen, cotton, or cotton-polyester blend, making them easy to get washed under high temperatures. 

The History of the White Coat

Did you know that white coats weren’t an option for doctors up through the late 19th century? Doctors back then only preferred to wear black. The black coats that doctors wore in the past usually symbolized a serious and somber presence; black is closely associated with death in most cases! However, doctors chose black because of its practical function of hiding dirty and messy stains that go with the profession.

Initially, only scientists working in laboratories wore lab coats, and they were not even white, but yellow or light pink. At that time, laboratory scientists have tainted doctors’ reputation by showing everyone that physicians’ drugs were useless. These momentarily put a strain on the doctors’ character. The public more praised scientists, and physicians and doctors weren’t trusted that much. This prompted the medical profession to turn to science. Doctors decided that they become scientists as well.

Since laboratory inventions are made to cure various diseases successfully, doctors started to represent themselves as scientists. Thus, they adopted the laboratory coat and made it their standard work clothes.

As the medical field advanced, the American Medical Association believed there was a need to remake how medical professionals should appear to the public. Enter the white coats! The modern white coats we see today were introduced in the medical field by Dr. George Armstrong (1855-1933) in Canada, the then president of the Canadian Medical Association and a practicing surgeon at the Montreal General Hospital.

Hospitals then started to equip their rooms with beds in fresh and white sheets. Nurses began to wear white caps, and doctors pulled on new white coats to restore the public’s trust in them. 

But why white? 

As the new standard in the medical field, white is chosen for some good reasons. First, this represents purity. It’s a telling representation of the medical professional’s commitment not to harm. White exudes goodness. It represents the seriousness of purpose and expresses cleanliness. 

White coats relay the doctor’s medical intent, and this also symbolizes the barrier that keeps the professional distance between doctor and patient. And most importantly, white symbolizes peace, compassion, and relaxation that any medical professional is expected to make their patients feel relieved. Also, patients feel positive once they enter a hospital, donned mostly in white. With all these, doctors then began to wear white coats in the twentieth century. 

In an internal survey conducted, there are many reasons why doctors prefer wearing white coats.

  • White coats are easily identified not only by patients but also by nurses and other doctors
  • Because of their large pockets, white coats make it easier for doctors to secure their stethoscopes
  • It emphasizes the physician’s status
  • White coats follow social expectation for physicians
  • It helps keep the body’s temperature against a hospital’s chilly environment

A separate research study showed that around 82% of psychiatrists and pediatricians wouldn’t prefer to wear white coats, saying this will negatively influence communication between them and their patients (children and the mentally distressed).

The White Coat Ceremony (WCC)

The now popular White Coat Ceremony is a ritual given once you enter medical school. It was also recently adapted into many health-related schools and businesses. This ceremony started at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in 1989. 

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WCC, a relatively new ritual, marks a student’s transition from his preclinical to clinical health science studies. This applies to medical students and dental, optometry, physical therapy, medical assistant, pharmacy, and veterinary medical school. Today, more than 100 schools across the US celebrate the White Coat Ceremony. 

The Medical and Health Profession: The Importance of Scrubs

The healthcare industry needs to practice the best hygiene standards. Hospitals and their premises have to be clean, and medical professionals and hospital staff have to use proper hygiene practices.  But this doesn’t stop there. The uniforms that healthcare staff wear daily should be clean and hygienic too. 

Scrubs are very common uniforms we see in medical professionals and nurses in the health care industry. These scrubs offer so many benefits beyond making it easier for patients to identify health care workers. Scrubs help medical providers easily identify contaminants and bodily fluids. These are cheap to replace, easy to clean than regular clothing, and because these scrubs have large pockets, it allows for easy access of medical tools that fit in the pocket. 

Cleaner, More Comfortable, and Durable 

Scrubs are very comfortable and are designed to last for long hours of working. They are made more durable than any other clothing type since scrubs have to go through a lot daily. They can hold up well even after so many cleanings. They are stain-resistant, and they can withstand thorough washing to get rid of contaminants and bacteria.

Scrubs are washed under high temperatures, and specialized cleaning chemicals are used to sanitize them even more. Washing tends to get harsher than the usual cleaning methods for ordinary clothes, but scrubs are designed to withstand the tough washing without the risk of being ruined in the whole process. 

Scrubs Keep Health Care Professionals from Bacteria

Haven’t you ever wondered why regular working people can stick to regular clothes without problems, but health care professionals cannot? Hospitals and other health care facilities are breeding grounds for practically all sorts of viruses and bacteria. Nurses are expected to contact so many types of diseases, and it has long been proven how regular clothes can easily transmit bacteria. You can imagine the dangers if a nurse wears regular clothes when dealing with different patients. 

Whether someone is sick or not, health care workers should be sanitary, especially when they come into contact with others. Scrubs are designed to withstand thorough cleaning to ensure that they are sanitary and prevent the dangers of spreading various diseases. In recent years, scrub manufacturers have started to produce scrubs that can effectively fight bacteria and other infections to protect health care professionals and patients. 

Scrubs Help Pinpoint Contaminants and Fluids

Medical scrubs can aid in the identification of harmful fluids and contaminants. This includes urine, stool, blood, vomit, and other types of fluids and chemicals. This is critically important to help lessen the risk of contamination and minimize the spreading of bacteria. 

Scrubs are Inexpensive and Cost-Friendly

When working in the healthcare field, you are likely to ruin your regular clothes while trying to remove bacteria from them. Scrubs are the more cost-effective option to keep your daily clothes from getting damaged. 

Scrubs Aids Professionalism and Identification

Especially during peak hours, hospitals are confusing and messy. Like a doctor’s white coat, wearing medical scrubs is a fool-proof way for hospital workers and patients to identify healthcare professionals easily. 

Some hospitals require color-coded scrubs to distinguish nurses from other medical staff like doctors so everybody can identify who is who with just a glance. Also, scrubs offer professional appearances. Like an army regular or a police officer, these medical scrubs can easily identify the same level. They also instill trust and confidence from patients and respect from colleagues. 

Easy Accessibility

Scrubs have a lot of pocket space where you can put your thing in—from pens to penlights, gloves, scissors, phone, and all those things you might need as you go about. Instead of scurrying back and taking these things with a bulky bag, scrubs provide lots of space and convenience.

Why Do Doctors Wear White Coats?: From a Patient’s Perspective 

More than 4,000 patients have spoken in a BMJ Open survey: they favor doctors in business attires and white coats, or at least medical scrubs and white coats. And this result is not just about fashion.

Doctors may want to consider grabbing their white coats as they go to work if they prefer to be looked at by their patients favorably, according to the biggest-ever survey of patient preferences for doctor’s outfits.

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Of the 4,062 patients surveyed, just a little of half of this figure, scattered across ten major hospitals in the country, said that what doctors wear while in the medical center is very important. 1/3 of the number said doctors wearing white coats further influence their satisfaction with how doctors care for them. 

According to Christopher Petrilli, MD, the lead author of this study and a professor at Michigan Medical School, doctors wearing white coats typically mirror what any applicant will wear during their job interview how a professional will dress on Wall Street. Although the dress code in the medical field is diverse, doctors are expected to dress properly and go for outfits that will reflect not only a level of professionalism but must also be mindful of the preference of patients. 

How do patients view a doctor’s attire?

Respondents were asked to look at both male and female doctors’ photos in seven different types of attire. They were asked to imagine these doctors both in an outpatient and inpatient clinical setting. From there, they are to rate each photo on how trustworthy, knowledgeable, approachable, and caring the doctors appeared and how each outfit made the patients feel. The options included:

  • Casual: short-sleeved collar shirt, a pair of jeans, tennis shoes, with or without a white coat
  • Scrubs: blue short-sleeved top and pants with or without a white coat
  • Formal: blue long-sleeved dress shirt, a pair of navy-blue suit pants, with/without a white coat, one-inch heels for the ladies, and black leather shoes and a dark blue tie for men. 
  • Business suit: pair of pants, navy-blue jacket, tie, leather shoes, with/without a coat.

Of all these options, the one that got the highest score was the formal attire with a white coat and was the top choice for people over 65. This was followed by scrubs with a coat and formal attire minus the white coat. 

The Great White Coat Debate

Dr. Philip Lederer of Harvard Medical School can only think of those wonderful memories he had on the day he got his first-ever white coat during a moving ceremony to kick-off his medical school. Ten years later, he decided to banish this garment and is continuously working to convince his colleagues to do the same. 

But why?

He believes that the white jacket is a germ magnet. It can easily carry deadly infections from one patient to another. For the longest time, the crisp and immaculate white coat has been used to symbolize profession and purity. However, some studies show how these hospital coats are loaded with microbes that doctors pick up from different patient rooms. 

Dr. Lederer wears a plain t-shirt and shirt rolled up, claiming that this type of clothes will be less likely to drag across infections from one patient to the next. While some other doctors agree with his claim, many medical practitioners still have no plans to abandon their white coats. They even question whether medical scrubs or street clothes (or bare arms, for that matter) are clean at all. 

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This debate is generally good-natured. However, it still surprised many doctors. Some even went beyond microbiology and got tough on the different perceptions of a doctor’s role. Doctors who say white coats are dirty are often considered elitists, a great barrier between a patient and a doctor. Conversely, those who stick with the traditional outfit believe this can endanger trust. 

When Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinical director for infectious disease, Dr. Paul E. Sax, summarized the arguments, it became even more interesting. He made a survey question to which nearly 1,300 responded. Surprisingly, the votes were almost split evenly: 51% of the respondents prefer to get rid of white coats, while 49% like to keep the traditional garb. 

According to Dr. Sax, white coats have numerous cultural significances, and that he believes there are no substantial shreds of evidence to give up these medical coats. Since the 19th century, white coats have been stable fixtures in the world of medicine. Doctors wore black back in the days until they gradually switched to white coats to signify that medicine is science. 

Another concern is that laboratory coats are infrequently washed and laundered. Out of 183 physicians and medical students surveyed, only 1 percent said they wash their lab coats every day. 2 percent say they take their white coats to the laundromat every other day, 39 percent wash once a week, and 40 percent say they wash it only once a month. It came as a shock when it was found out that 17 percent of the respondents said that they have never washed their coats ever since. 

Whether the key players of the study agree or not, everybody acknowledges the missing link: nobody has provided a study to corroborate claims about white coats transferring germs or increasing hospital-acquired infections. 

Top Medical Schools in America

Now that we have a full understanding of the importance of doctors wearing white coats let’s now look at the best medical schools to help you kick-off your goals of wearing that crisp and white doctor’s coat in the future. Here are the top ten medical schools in the US to enroll in. 

Harvard Medical School

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard University is an academic frontrunner in research, teaching, and developing leaders in various disciplines. Through their advance educational programs, Harvard Medical School’s primary mission is to minimize human suffering by producing a diverse group of future leaders in biomedical and clinical care. These future professionals will be on the front lines of science and medicine, serving populations and individuals locally, nationally, and globally. 

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Baltimore, Maryland

For the impressive faculty and personnel behind the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, there is more to the prestige attached to its name. Johns Hopkins uses the latest tools and technologies for the training and education of future scientists, doctors, caregivers, healers, discoveries, and inventors. 

University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine

Parnassus Campus, San Francisco, California

The UC School of Medicine is consistent with its being one of the best medical schools in the US, thanks to its outstanding faculty. They have 5 Nobel laureates, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators. mand hundreds of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Initially called Toland Medical College back in 1864, this school eventually joined the UC system in 1873. Twenty-five years later, it moved to its present Parnassus Heights campus. In 1907, they opened the first UC hospital and eventually grew into Moffitt-Long Hospitals, then Benioff Children’s hospital. All these facilities, along with Mount Zion Hospital, now compose the UCSF Medical Center. 

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford, California 

The Stanford University School of Medicine offers several study courses leading to the MS, Ph.D., and MD degrees. Most of its courses are open to validated Stanford students who have completed all the prerequisites, although this is still subject to the normal limits of course enrollment and faculty approval. 

The School of Medicine has reversed the usual teaching method most schools are applying. The school’s classroom time is reserved for lectures. Problem-solving exercises are done outside the school as homework. The US News and World Report ranked Stanford fourth in the country among all medical schools for research. When applying for an MD program, expect a highly competitive environment. In 2019 alone, 6,894 students applied, and only 422 qualified for an interview. From that number, 175 were accepted for 90 spots. 

University of Washington School of Medicine

Seattle, Washington

UWSOM (University of Washington School of Medicine) is a public medical school in the northwest part of the US and is located in Seattle. Affiliated with the University of Washington, UWSOM is the first public medical school across Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska. This school has a network of teaching facilities scattered in more than 100 cities and towns across the five-state region. As part of the WWAMI partnership, students from Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho spend 1.5 years at the University of Wyoming, University of Alaska Anchorage, Montana State University, or the University of Idaho. 

University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

Philadelphia

Popularly known as Penn Med, the Perelman School of Medicine is the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and is located in the University City portion of Philadelphia. It was founded in 1765, thus making it the older medical school in the entire United States. Penn Med is also one of the seven prestigious Ivy League medical schools. 

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

Along with the Duke University Health System and the Duke University School of Nursing, the Duke University School of Medicine comprise the Duke Health System. This was established by James Duke in 1925 and has earned its notable reputation of being one of the world’s foremost biomedical research and patient care institutions.  

Medical students and residents on clinical rotations usually occur within the Duke University Health System, an academic health care system that is fully integrated. The health system encompasses a tertiary-care hospital and specialty clinics, a VA hospital, two community hospitals, hospice and home health services, and a network of several primary care physicians. 

Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Columbia University
New-York-Presbyterian

VP&S, the graduate medical school of Columbia University, is situated at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan with its affiliate New-York-Presbyterian Hospital. VP&S was founded in 1767 by Samuel Brad as the medical department of King’s College. This is the first medical school in the Thirteen Colonies to give the Doctor of Medicine Degree. in 1993, the school also became the first US medical school to hold a WCC (White Coat Ceremony). 

VP&S is known for being a highly selective medical school in the US based on MCAT score, acceptance rates, and GPA. In 2018, 7,537 students applied, and only 1,007 made it to the interview portion for 140 seats. In that same year, Columbia University became the first medical school in the US to offer scholarships in liey of student loans to qualified individuals. These scholarships are supported by an endowment established by Dr. P.Roy Vagelos and Diana, his wife. 

In 2017, this 250-year-old school was renamed in honor of the Vagelos’. The couple committed $300 million to Columbia, half of which was directed to the scholarship fund. 

David Geffen School of Medicine

University of Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California

The UCLA School of Medicine, also known as the David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM), is based in LA, California, and is a duly accredited medical school. The school was renamed in 2001 after media personality David Geffen who donated $200 million in an unrestricted fund. 

University of Michigan Ann Arbor Medical School

Michigan

From medical education that sets the discourse standards to creative and intellectual rigor, The University of Michigan Ann Arbor Medical School—with its 20 clinical and nine basic science departments—lives by their mission “to transform health through bold and innovative education, discovery, and service.” 

Annually, this medical school produces 170 physicians on average. This strengthened the 20,000 plus strong UMMS alumni. Their students can take advantage of unconstrained information from all across the globe. Within the four-year curriculum, half of the medical students are involved in global activities via different programs like Global REACH and other opportunities that exist for the students to serve and learn around the world. 

Surviving Medical School

Obtaining your lifelong dream of wearing a doctor’s white coat starts by learning how you can survive the challenging and tough world of medical school. No matter where you are enrolled, be it in a public medical school or a prestigious Ivy League school, all this will go down the drain if you’re not determined enough to survive med class. 

Here are some actionable tips for surviving the ever-challenging world of medical school.

Make friends. Medical school is not that scary as most people perceive it to be. Medical students are known for becoming extremely close to each other. This is important because you will be able to speak to people in the same position. Even during your first day, start to meet new friends. Most medical schools understand how crucial it is for their students to bond. Thus, these schools often have a medical society (MedSoc). This group is usually run by other students who make events, sports teams, and even night outs to help others get to know each other. 

Surround yourself with a balanced network. While it helps to have medical students like you, never underestimate also having a non-medic circle. Remember, medical school is tough and intense most of the time. There is so much more in the outside world of pathology and cadavers, and in most cases, you will want a portion of that outside world. 

Keep an open mind. Throughout your journey to medical school, you will meet different types of people. This will be a part of your college experience, and if you can, try to have an open mind to learn something from everyone you meet. You may have set your heart on a specific specialty since day 1, but in most cases, a lot of medical students will change their minds as they go along. Maybe they heard from friends about better choices, or seniors may have offered their unsolicited advice in terms of better opportunities. Be appreciative of all the changes that will come your way.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. What people expect of you in terms of workload and behavior may be different from others. You must juggle so many things simultaneously, and this will take your time management skills and level of maturity to a test. However, do not bury yourself in studying too much. This will only give you more unnecessary stress. 

A doctor has to be personable, well-rounded, and must know how to cope with stress. If there are things you’re not sure about, it’s okay to ask others for help. Keep in mind that if you are struggling, someone will also feel the same. The best thing to do is not to wallow in on all the stress related to your academics. Instead, try to help and support one another. 

To dream that you will one day be able to wear that doctor’s white coat is to believe that you got what it takes to reach for it. Not all are allowed to wear a white coat. It will take you years to build and reach for that dream. But one day, you will find yourself walking in hospital hallways, proudly wearing that crisp and immaculate doctor’s white coat you’ve worked so long and so hard for.