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White Out

When I first started my clinical rotations, I was astonished by all the white coats I saw gracing the hospital halls. I thought to myself, “There sure are a lot of doctors and/or medical students here.” When I discovered many of the people wearing white coats were allied health workers, I felt confused. Were physicians the only privileged ones to wear the “coat?”

A white coat is a classic symbol of medical care. Adorned over business casual or professional attire, a white coat is the unifying garment of the health profession. The first documented “White Coat Ceremony” took place at The University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine in 1989, and every spring, AUA holds the ceremony for another batch of students who prepare to transition from basic sciences to clinical sciences. One could argue there is little sacred about who wears a white coat anymore. Many nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, nutritionists, and technicians don the white coat.

Regardless of the coat, I seriously doubt patients even care what we’re wearing when they are in acute distress or experiencing discomfort. Clothes have little to do with the result that we, as healthcare professionals, hope for – maximal health. As one member of an assembly of workers, wearing the white coat reminds me that health care is a team approach. Just a like a singing group in which all of the members wear the same outfit as a unifying symbol, the white is becoming the outfit of health care. I never liked those groups that wore different outfits anyway. It creates a diva complex, and we all know there are no divas in the medical profession.

by Chinwe Okeke, Class of 2011

Chinwe Okeke is a fourth-year medical student at American University of Antigua, completing clinical rotations at Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.