normally, i like to wear white

for several years of my life, i could only manage to wear white shirts. it was a compulsion i could not control. i think ultimately it bordered on laziness. white matches everything. and it makes you look tanner. unless of course it’s winter, and then nothing makes me look tanner – except maybe a person even whiter than i am. over the past year, i have made a conscious effort to stop this habit. this isn’t a crusade started by my own motivation as much as it is at the behest of everyone else on the planet. (yes! i got to use behest correctly.) I had become notorious at my medical school for my lack of color in my wardrobe. you know it’s bad when dude’s start mocking your ability to dress yourself.

despite this love of wearing the color white, there is one item i have grown to detest. the white coat. originally this was a powerful symbol in the healthcare field, and it’s still important when it comes to the induction of students into medical school. or when you need somewhere other than your neck or ears for your stethoscope.

i still remember the day of my white coat ceremony (need i really explain?). i was excited just thinking about everything this white coat symbolized for the next four years of my life. i still remember almost coming to tears during the speech by the internal medicine director. his speech was so moving that 2 years later i fought tooth and nail to work under his guidance for my internal medicine clerkship. and it was worth it.

now when i put on that white coat, i feel dread. i can feel the weight of it on my shoulders, i think about all of the unnecessary items i keep in it (books, a watch, random papers, pens, id’s, keys, my phone, you name it), and i think about the level of filth it accrues over the course of a clerkship. next time you see a white coat…take a realclose look at it. white coats are so dirty, they no longer allow their use in england.

the white coat has also lost much of it’s meaning in the medical setting. i can’t even tell who is an attending anymore for the sole reason that half of the healthcare workers are wearing them. the medical student white coat does still stick out like a sore thumb, though, with it just reach mid-hip on most students. i can’t wait until i’m an attending. i will not be wearing it.

the last reason i have no intention of wearing the white coat beyond residency is because i feel like it is a pretentious piece of fabric. it doesn’t serve any practical purpose any more, and i won’t wear something for it’s symbolism. a white coat doesn’t make a doctor, and continuing the tradition for simple dogma is not enough for me.

i might have previously agreed with someone if they told me it helped patients, nurses, etc recognize who the physician is – except now everyone wears one: pharmacists, nurse practitioners, regular nurses (depending on the hospital), doctors, residents, medical students. you can’t tell who is who.

but hey – if you need some extra pockets, by all means enjoy. but i’d much rather go without the stiff neck and coffee stained sleeves.

update: a doctor i’m working with now mentioned offhandedly that the white coat helps maintain the appropriate physician-patient relationship because it puts that barrier between you. i can see where he’s coming from, but i still don’t like to wear it.


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