Prior to the 20th century, doctors traditionally wore black coats to represent formal attire. However, in the last 100 years, the white coat has as served an iconic symbol for physicians. The change occurred as the practice of medicine went from mysticism to a scientific enterprise and evidence based practice. The white color serves to represent pureness, sterility, and righteousness. Therefore, it is no coincidence why upon beginning medical school, a rite of passage is the proverbial White Coat Ceremony.
Dr. Hochberg, Vice Chair of education and Faculty affairs at NYU Medical School once stated, “The ceremony welcomes those embarking on their medical careers to the community of physicians by giving them this powerful symbol of compassion and honor.” Attire in general influences how we are perceived by others and by ourselves; and the addition of a white coat furthers echoes a perception of “confidence,” “intellect,” and “authority.” More so, white is the color of hope and peace and since ancient times has been symbolic for a healer.
White coats tend to be bulky, plain and rarely make a sartorial statement. Nevertheless, they do serve a practical function. The large pockets allow one to hold a stethoscope when not around your neck, provide a place to store documents for patient care, and they protect your clothes from hazardous liquids (i.e. blood and other bodily fluids). Additionally, they are easy to clean and simple to change if soiled. Patients have a lot on their minds when visiting the doctor and numerous studies have shown that a well-dressed physician is trusted far more than their casually dressed counterpart. Although a white coat is appropriate, expected and even desirable…does the fitting and what one wears underneath matter? Well, if you are a gentleman like me who appreciates and values a good fashion sense, yes it does. I believe male physicians should err on the dressier side of menswear. It aids a healthy patient-physician relationship and boosts confidence and trust.
Personally, a bulky and uncleansed white coat is an absolute faux pas for me. It makes you appear unkempt, unflattering, and boxy. Therefore, when wearing a white coat, I prefer to have one that provides a tailored fit (i.e., high rising underarms, silhouette waist, and contoured shoulders). My preference is the M3 H.W. Cushing Slim Fit Lab Coat from Medelita. It’s a perfect fit for those gents on the shorter side, like myself; its cut a tad bit higher so it doesn’t appear like a trench coat and yet long enough to not be mistaken for a medical student coat (available in regular length also). Some other things that I love about this coat is its moisture wicking fabric, which keeps me cool, prevents and repels odors and stains with its built-in hydrophobic and hydrophilic technology, and has bacteriostatic performance fibers for added infection control. Plus, it just looks really sheik and I get compliments on it everyday.
As for as what goes underneath a white coat, men have far less flexibility than woman. However, keen attention to detail (i.e. accessories, watches, socks, shoes, etc.), fabrics, patterns, and fit will set you apart from your peers. Male medical professionals should find the right balance between crisp professionalism and stylistic flourishes (i.e., I tend to add a lapel pin every now and then). A clean dress shirt and a well-tied tie can truly make the big difference. Being well dressed will ease some of your patients’ anxiety during office visits, your colleagues and coworkers alike will take notice, and you will always be prepared for unexpected conferences, hospital inspections, or other career-altering meetings (trust me this happens)!
About the author:
Dr. Janish Kothari is a medical resident at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital who is an aspiring cardiologist as well as being passionate for critical care. Aside from his work, Dr. Kothari has a large interest in sports, travel, men's fashion, and thought provoking conversations about life and philosophy. One thing he often says is "fashion is over quickly, but style is forever." Follow Dr. Kothari on Instagram!