During my last few weeks working as a British doctor, I made myself look like a warehouse man. This had more to do with personal principle than fashion.
I admit to having been one of the last dinosaurs, so keen to wear a white coat that when my hospital instructed us to ditch them, I refused to take orders. I cut the sleeves of the item and dyed it in denim blue. It looked terrible and I looked awful but I made my point, my white coat was not white any more so it wasn’t really a forbidden garment. A few daring nurses approached me: “What on earth are you wearing?” The answer: a white coat in disguise.
The idea that doctors’ coats were making hospitals soar with infection is ludicrous particularly because doctors stopped wearing white coats in Britain ages ago. Funny enough, back in 1991, 72% of hospital docs wore white coats but, by 2004, only 11% did, just the inverse evolution of the MRSA infections. I guess high bed occupancy, dirty hospitals and excessive use of antibiotics are the biggest culprits.
Most doctors stopped wearing white coats long before they were officially banned. No matter the symbolism that they carry hope, tradition, scientific approach, cleanliness but also practicalities such as easy recognition, protection of own clothes and the almighty pockets; white coat detractors say that they are uncomfortable and that uniforms bring down the prestige of the profession.
My first day as a Spanish doctor was fantastic; during my personal induction I was taken to the sewing room, measured and then provided with a huge pile of white pyjamas, white coats and white trainers, everything marked with my name, the hospital logo and a big ‘DOCTOR’. I must admit I spent a while in front of the mirror, admiring my newly recovered ‘doctor look’ and remembered my pathetic last days as a warehouse man in England.
It certainly feels good. The Spanish hospitals provide the uniforms and of course take charge of cleaning them all too; there are no excuses abour wearing dirty white coats.
I mentioned it several times during my first days here, with some long sighs; it feels so good to have a white coat again. Why? What do British doctors wear? My colleagues thought I was kidding when I explained to them that doctors in Britain don’t wear any form of protective clothes and mostly just wear their own clothes. Their faces tend to go from incredulity to disgust. For Spanish doctors the concept of white-coatless doctors is almost as surreal as that of an astronaut in a bull-fighter’s suit.
So, for me, wearing a white coat again is the end of a personal battle against the system; it is just a shame that I had to move countries to win.