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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Let the doctor pass" and the white coat aura

Years, before I would actually become a physician I had my first personal encounter with the promise,prestige,respect,authority, and the awe that people may have for a doctor. I was a college student working for the summer in a charity hosptial in the south as a woefully undertrained lab tech.I covered the blood bank at night and did cross and match work and drew blood and needed to go to the wards for a sample. I was dressed more like an orderly in "One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" than a doctor but the group of Afro-Americans sitting on the stairs must have mistaken me for one. One elderly man said to the children who were really not in my way, "Let the doctor pass". It reminds me now of a famous scene in "To Kill a Mocking Bird" when the Gregory Peck character was leaving court and the Black audience in the balcony rose to show respect and one elderly man (Rev. Sykes) said to Scout, "stand up-your father's passin." Aticus Finch had earned their respect. That night over 40 years ago I had personally earned none but nevetheless was the recepient of it because my costume had lead to my misidentification as a physician to whom, for those folks, respect was automatically given. Perhaps less so now than then, respect is automatic and assumed.
The Blog Purty Gud recently spoke of the power of the white coat.He is right-it has a lot. I have mixed feelings about the white coat ceremony that a number of medical schools have started for the incoming freshmen.It is probably a good thing. However,I did not get to wear the white coat until I became an intern. At Tulane , in those days, we wore a long tan lab coat with the Tulane emblem sewed on. So, in way when we got the white coat, we had earned it, although we had certaintly not proven at that point we could really be doctors. Now the students get one right away before they have proven themselves in anyway other than gaining admission to the school, even before they begin to work their butts off. Maybe, the ceremony will have limbic valence and impart a sense of the seriousness of the endeavor and the important role they are choosing to play and become an important first step in the transformation from a lay person into a physician and for that and probably other reasons that may be pointed out to me, the ceremony is a good thing, but still some of us old docs might feel it is just too easy to get the magic coat that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a 4th year right now at NYU. The standard dress for med students now is a shorter, waist length, white coat as opposed to the longer "duster" type worn by residents and attendings. So don't worry man, we still have to earn our stripes; whether it's a short white coat or a long tan coat.

What might be frustrated however, are that NP's and some other non-physicians do wear a long white coat.