The White Coat Ceremony in Medical Schools
The white coat ceremony is relatively new in the medical profession, having been created in 1993. It is a rite of passage for medical students, and during the ceremony, a white coat is placed on each student’s shoulders, the Hippocratic Oath is recited and the student officially enters the medical profession The majority of medical schools in the US organize the white coat ceremony, also known as WCC.
The color white signifies purity of purpose and the nobility of the medical professional.
Keep reading to learn all about the white coat ceremony, its history, and its significance.
The transition from black coats to white coats
Before the 1900s, doctors typically wore black coats instead of white, signifying the formal and serious nature of their work.
In the 1800s, treatment or healing was not as scientific as it is today. People believed mostly in mystical cures and seeking a doctor's help was often the last resort. This pattern started changing in the late 1800s when Dr. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, championed the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, and it became the first widely used antiseptic in surgery. This single measure prevented bacterial infections during or after surgeries, allowing quick or complete recovery.
Lister published his groundbreaking work on germ theory in 1867. His research into bacteriology and infection in wounds raised his operative technique, resulting in a revolution in the practice of surgery throughout the world. The death of patients post-surgery reduced drastically. This further intensified the significance and need for taking a scientific approach to studying medicine that we see today.
Doctors started wearing white coats to “rebrand” themselves, dressing more like scientists. The color white not only worked as a visual cue for people to understand but also distinguished the professional medical practitioners from the quacks.
When did the first White Coat Ceremony take place?
The first White Coat Ceremony was organized in 1993 by Dr. Arnold P. Gold, a pediatric neurologist and a professor. This program commemorated new medical students at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr Arnold initiated the ceremony as he believed medical students needed to acknowledge the professional standards and responsibilities of the medical profession before starting formal training. Medical students must commit to always keeping the best interests of their patients first and never themselves.
Studies show that patients tend to develop more trust when the attending physician is wearing a white coat. Patient satisfaction makes patients adhere to the suggestions of their doctors that help in successful clinical outcomes.
Although most medical schools hold a white coat ceremony, the use of the white coat in clinical settings may vary. For example, some psychiatrists and pediatricians do not wear white coats to blur boundaries between their patients. Psychiatrists deliberately don't wear a white coat as they need to build rapport with their patients to build trust and perform their treatment.
A large study conducted by researchers of the University of Michigan shows that 53% of the patients said they trust a physician wearing a coat more than those who wear business attire. They even noted that the doctor's attire also influences the way patients find them to be more knowledgeable and trustworthy.
Length of the white coat
The white coat does not come in a standard length. It varies throughout one's journey from being a medical student to a fully licensed doctor.
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What do the short, medium and long white coats of doctors mean?
Students studying medical sciences usually wear a short white coat presented to them in the symbolic white coat ceremony.
Medium-length coats are sometimes worn by medical school graduates while still training in their craft and under the supervision of a senior licensed physician.
The full-length (usually knee-length) white coat is worn by M.D.s that meet all the requirements and training to treat patients. The long coat is a symbol of accomplishment indicating the seniority of the doctor. This status can only be achieved after years of dedicated training in residencies after graduating from a school of medicine.