Medicine Dress Code

Wear a short white coat, your ID, and decent clothes.

The above is a standard email we receive for pre-shadowing instructions in the university hospital. In our first seminar here, our medical director told us we’d need to acquire a white coat, specifically one that reached about to the waist. Why? Wouldn’t you think that a white coat is a white coat?

Much to the contrary. The length of your lab coat, in the hospital, is a relatively absurd symbol of your status in the medical hierarchy. It’s so strange that it could be an NCAA bylaw:

Rule 17. Thy Lab Coat, being the wearer’s representation of General Medical Knowledge and expertise, and further being necessary to maintain appropriate professionalism, must be of an appropriate length, as determined by seniority in the hospital. To wit:
 17.a. The Lab Coat worn by a senior member of the clan, the attending physician, shall

Seriously, you don’t want to know where I stole this from.

reach at least to, and preferably beyond, the knee level. Scraping of the floor with the Lab Coat is discouraged as this may cause the Lab Coat to become soiled with, among other things, gross cafeteria Jell-O, bodily fluids, and MRSA. Effort should be made, however, to best imitate the style of dress exemplified by wizards such as Merlin.

 17.b. The Lab Coat worn by a mid-level member of the clan, a resident, shall reach approximately to the mid-thigh region, assuming the thighs of the resident in question has normal-size thighs. Extremely large or small thighs must require a commensurate adjustment in Lab Coat Length. It is crucially important that the Lab Coat not be too long, lest signs of sleep deprivation be insufficient for differentiating residents from their superior attending physicians.
 17.c. The Lab Coat worn by low-ranking members such as medical students, unusually charming bipedal animals such as the pigs from Animal Farm, or any other member on an equivalent level of seniority, shall extend approximately to the waist, but no longer. The Lab Coat must not extend long enough to be confused with a resident, for this would be a severe breach of protocol punishable by severe fines, up to and including the dreaded punishment of being a standardized patient for a medical student’s first attempt at a colonoscopy. In extreme cases, lube shall not be provided.

Just in case you entirely lack my sense of humor, I made that all up. Maybe I should have gone to law school like my most recent roommate.

Anyway, in short (ha!) your lab coat is supposed to get longer the more senior you become within a hospital. This is by no means universal, but it’s definitely prevalent. And what a weird tradition, really; in the real world, usually you can get away with more casual as you get older. A longer lab coat seems strangely more formal, doesn’t it?

If you see me walking around in 30 years with a Merlin coat, congratulate me. If I’m still in a short coat… well, maybe you should pretend you didn’t see me.

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4 thoughts on “Medicine Dress Code

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