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Why doctors wear white coats

June 21, 2009

Sometimes I am fortunate enough to come across an article that covers a topic that I have a strong interest in, but not enough time to investigate.  At the AMA’s most recent meeting, delegates debated whether or not to recommend banning physicians from wearing white coats as some research suggests this traditional doctor attire may contribute to nosocomial infections.  (The AMA’s ultimate decision was to study it further.)  Naturally, I wanted to know a little bit more about the history of why exactly doctors even wear white coats.  Thankfully, Slate provided a great short article examining this exact topic.

My own personal opinion is that at least medical schools should get rid of white coats regardless of whether or not the research shows they are contributors to nosocomial infections.  White coats–and more specifically the length of them–simply reinforce the hierarchical structure of physician training.  Practicing medicine today requires a collaborative, team-based approach.  Maintaining explicit symbols of the traditional hierarchy reinforces a top-down approach that is quickly disappearing from the actual practice of medicine.  If it’s not in line with the real-world medicine, why maintain it during training?

Plus, it’s not a particularly confidence-inspiring sight when a med student comes in to examine a patient in a visibly dirty white coat (which I have witnessed several times) regardless of whether or not he or she is carrying an infectious pathogen on their sleeves.

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