At Medical University of the Americas, like many other medical schools, first semester students are presented with a short white coat symbolizing your status as a medical student. It’s a rite of passage and upon being awarded your MD from MUA, you will replace that short white coat with a long one that you will wear throughout your career as a physician.
But it turns out that you won’t be the only one wearing a long white coat. You might well be joined by a nurse, a physical therapist and others. To an anonymous, young, female physician blogging on KevinMD, this is troubling: “It seems unfair that as someone who worked exceedingly hard for many, many years to earn the right to wear a long white coat, this ability is simply granted to other practitioners without any significance.”
She notes that it is a particular problem for female physicians: “I often will enter a room and introduce myself as Dr. (last name), and I cannot tell you how many times the patient or family member will remark to another person in the room or on the phone, and say “Oh, the nurse is here.”
This physician isn’t casting aspersions at non-physician colleagues—simply wondering if there isn’t a way that other medical practitioners can acquire a distinctive, professional attire, symbolizing the dedication and skill they bring to healthcare, without it being the long white coat traditionally worn by physicians.
For Shivam Joshi, MD, the issue is not who wears the white coats, but where. Writing in his blog AFTERNOONROUNDS, he is troubled when he runs into fellow physicians wearing their white coats outside a clinical setting, i.e., buying groceries.
The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology in America (SHEA) recently recommended that healthcare providers should possess two or more white coats, launder them regularly and have access to hooks where the white coat (or other long-sleeved outerwear) could be placed prior to patient contact.
So, that first-semester White Coat ceremony? Yes it was a rite of passage–in more ways than you might ever have imagined.