To White Coat or Not To White Coat

If you live in the USA or many other countries, you may associate the white medical coat with a number of doctors. Short coats, I am told, are for medical students. The longer the coat, the more senior you are.

Evolution of the White Coat by Fizzy McFizz - click for link.
Evolution of the White Coat by Fizzy McFizz – click for link.

In South Africa, two groups of people wear the white medical coat as a rule: medical students and old-school professors.

In fact, at my medical school, you celebrated your induction into student internship by getting to throw the white coat into the back of your cupboard. So the last time I wore a white coat was in the middle of my fifth year – two years ago.

Thing is, I’m a little over having to pick an outfit every morning.

I miss my white coat. It was so much easier throwing it over whatever I was wearing. I could even possibly get away with wearing the same outfit twice in a week. And all those pockets… *drools*

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting myself a few stylish long white coats for work. But here is the thing: I’m short and petite and look like a Doogie (Howser, that is). What if my patients think I’m a medical student?! (Half of them already do. Just the other day a patient asked me how many years til I graduate. She wouldn’t believe me that I was qualified until a fellow intern confirmed it to her!)

I also don’t know what the reception will be from my fellow interns, and my superiors, were I to suddenly begin wearing a white coat. Not that I should care what others think, I guess, but I can’t help wondering.

The flip-side of course is the idea that white coats contribute to cross-infection, which is hardly something I want to be guilty of. But I can’t help wondering why white coats would be any different from whatever other clothing you are wearing – unless of course you don’t wear a clean coat every day.

My ideal would be then to wear scrubs to work every day. I kind of wish our hospital would pass THAT as a resolution. At the moment, only people who are on call wear scrubs to work. I certainly don’t want to be mistaken as the intern on call when I am not!

Thoughts? Advice?!


  1. The only time I had to wear a white coat in medical school, was during the microbiology lab sessions. In Australia/NZ, the white coat stuff for doctors and med students never caught on.

  2. At my institution, we received four white coats at the start of residency, all of which had to be laundered centrally in a process that took weeks. As a result, my white coat was always ridiculously dirty. I was quite happy to give it up when I finished training!

    I wear the same clothes twice in one week; I have absolutely no shame. I’ve also started carrying a purse (from an outdoor equipment store; more like a small backpack than a true purse) to make up for the missing pockets.

  3. DoctorHaylee says:

    At my hospital there is a mix of people who wear white coats and don’t. I’m one of them who doesn’t. I’m a fan of the pockets, but I don’t enjoy the extra heat and fit of them. I understand the irritation with choosing clothes though!

    Also, the guiac card in the pocket made me chuckle 🙂

  4. Nancy Ackelson says:

    Good luck with this one Mariechen! There were a number of Docs at my hospital who wore scrubs with their group and personal names embroidered on the chest pockets. Some even had hats too! They always looks clean and neat and professional and were easy to ID as MDs by pretty much everyone. And, scrubs!

  5. White coats are med student stuff here in Jamaica but every now and again we can get away with wearing scrubs depending on the clerkship or consultant. The really long coats are also that of the residents and sometimes the consultants. I find the embroidered “Dr. Firstname Lastname” a nice touch but for now, I’m looking forward to graduating and ditching the coat. Too hot! I’ll just invest in a small purse that can be slung over my shoulder as replacement pockets

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