Appendix 32 - White Coats

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

"It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes." - Henry David Thoreau

Portable Pedestal[374]

According to an article in JAMA, physicians sought to represent themselves as scientists and therefore adopted the scientific lab coat as their symbol of dress.[375] Although in many places, like Denmark and England, it is rare to meet a doctor wearing a white coat, the white coat has become a universal symbol of the medical profession.[376]

Seventy-five Stanford medical students wrote a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine:

Having argued that the white coat is not a prerequisite to a good doctor-patient relation, we should like to indicate why we might choose not to wear one.... [It has been stated] that the white coat is easily identifiable. We agree. We feel that in the eyes of many the white coat identifies its wearer as a member of the professional medical hierarchy. A white-coated provider of care high in the hierarchy is supposed to be regarded by the patient and by other healthcare workers as a more competent source of care and information than workers lower in the hierarchy.... We would prefer that the patients learn to judge the abilities of each health worker on his or her own merits, rather than learn to rely on the potentially misleading symbolism of the white coat....

Like a Klansman

Quoting from The Sociology of Medicine, "The almost incessant drumming against the medical profession is largely of our own making. The aloofness and detachment of many members of the profession is, time and time again, wrapped in the cloak of 'dignity.'"[377] From a text called Feminist Studies/ Critical Studies:

It is the lab coat, literally and symbolically, that wraps the scientist in the robe of innocence - of a pristine and aseptic neutrality - and gives him, like a Klansman, a faceless authority that his audience can't challenge. From that sheeted figure comes a powerful, mysterious, impenetrable, coercive, male voice.[378]


[374] Preston, SH. "Time to Hang Up the White Coat." Medical Economics 19 October 1998:149-150.

[375] Jones, VA. "The White Coat: Why Not Follow Suit?" Journal of the American Medical Association 281(1999):478.

[376] Anvik, T. "Doctors in a White Coat." Scandanavian Journal of Primary Care 8(1990):91-94.

[377] Fox, RC The Sociology of Medicine Paramus: Prentice Hall, 1988:92.

[378] Beier, R. "Lab Coat: Robe of Innocence or Klansman's Sheet?" Feminist Studies/ Critical Studies Teresa de Lauretis ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986:55-66.

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