Careering Ahead

There’s a lot to be said for a uniform approach

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.

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5 Responses to “There’s a lot to be said for a uniform approach”

  1. Mark II says:

    I’m glad to have seen the back of white coats. Grubby horrible things. Patients just want a doctor who’s dressed smartly not like a lab technician.

  2. Simon says:

    I’m no expert on HAI’s (and nor are most of the people working in the field of HAI), but patients like white coats, and at least it’s based on evidence.
    http://www.hospitaldr.co.uk/blogs/dr-blogs/the-advantages-of-a-doctors-uniform

  3. Dinosaur says:

    The ‘bare-below-the-elbows’ policy was brought in to get Alan Johnson out of the C.Difficile hole three years ago. The Minister of State after all must be seen to be doing something. Had I introduced a new treatment with the same level of evidence as was present for the white coat/tie ban and ‘bare-below-the-elbows’ policy I suspect that I would now be explaining myself to a number of lawyers and the GMC.

    However, I remain a dinosaur (they survived for 190 million years, so must have got something right!). I continue to wear a white coat, with sleeves rolled to above the elbows to satisfy the fascists who would strip us of our professional status. I don’t know what it is about young doctors, but they seem determined to appear as if they have just rolled out of a nightclub at 2 a.m. Their contemporaries in the legal profession seem to have no trouble maintaining a professional appearance.

    So strike a blow for the profession, wear a white coat, but don’t forget to roll your sleeves up. At least the other staff in the hospital will recognise you as a doctor, rather than a refugee from the local nightclub.

  4. kate says:

    there are plenty of really important things to worry about ifyou want to get angry about something – how about the waste of taxpayers’ money on underused ISTCs or hugely expensive PFI projects, patients being bumped to the end of waiting lists once thye’ve breached because noone cares about them any more………I could go on. Who cares about white coats? patients don’t. just get over it.

  5. Carl Watson says:

    It was a bloody silly idea to get rid of them in the first place. Like all things it was a matter of cost. Providing an adequate supply of clean uniforms costs money, far cheaper to get rid of white coats and get the nurses to take their uniforms home to wash. Then you can also close all of the hospital laundries and hand over the contracts to private firms miles away from the hospital.

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