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February 3, 1999

The White Coat: Why not Follow Suit?

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JAMA. 1999;281(5):478. doi:10.1001/jama.281.5.478-JMS0203-5-1

One Halloween I opened the front door to welcome a group of candy-craving children that included a 412-foot-tall vampire, 4-foot-tall angel, and 312-foot-tall doctor. The latter child had a circular mirror bound to her forehead with black electrical tape, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses balanced tentatively on her button nose, a stethoscope dangling about her knees, and a white coat that fit like a box tent. I wondered, "Is this what she thinks a doctor looks like?" That night I had come face-to-face with a caricature of my own image as a future physician.

The white coat is a universal symbol of the medical profession. A study of how the media depict physicians revealed that the most common accessory adorning physicians is the white coat, followed closely by the stethoscope.1 How did the white coat become accepted as the physician's identifiable uniform?