Wednesday, March 16, 2011

White coats? Go figure

Symbols. They’re important shortcuts. An example? White coats. When I was a fourth year medical student beginning hospital learning, I was chuffed to wear a short (i.e. waist length) white coat around the wards. Because it showed I was a senior medical student. Immediately after graduation I was even chuffeder to wear a longer white coat – knee length or slightly lower – because it signified I was a doctor. That was over 40 years ago. In recent years medical white coats around hospitals have become scarcer than hens’ teeth. I’ve previously written about contamination and infection issues [1]. Last Monday a article amplified the topic [2]. Titled ‘What happened to the doctor’s white coat?’ it confirms the white coat’s disappearance from hospitals (in the US at least) over the past generation. The author, US paediatrician Dr Rahul Parikh, proposes several reasons for the white coat’s demise: diminished doctors’ omnipotence and omniscience due to the rise of incurable chronic non-infectious diseases, diminished doctors’ power at the expense of nurses and allied health workers (and patients themselves), and of course the (so far unproved) infection risk. So doctors’ white coats are disappearing fast from hospitals. And in some hospitals they’ve gone already. If that’s what society wants, then that’s what it’ll get. Is it a change for the better? I don’t know. Time will tell. But Dr Parikh ends his article by quoting research concluding young children, far from finding white coats threatening, prefer doctors to wear them [3]. Go figure.

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