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Healthcare Habit

Products, Style & Advice for the Modern Healthcare Professional

When in White – A History of the Lab Coat

Published 12 August 16 03:16 PM


For more than a century, the white lab coat has served as a pre-eminent symbol of physicians. A child’s earliest memory of a doctor’s visit is being treated by somebody donning a white coat. At almost every med school, the first emblematic act is the “White Coat Ceremony” coined by Arnold P. Gold, MD.

Surprisingly, before the late 19th century, doctors wore black garbs. The dark color was considered formal (e.g. today’s tuxedo). Since medical encounters with patients were viewed as serious matters, physicians wore black around the clock. Additionally, until the late 1800’s, an encounter with a doctor was rarely seen as beneficial to the patient, making the dark uniform synonymous with death. Prior to the 1900’s, most medicine was generally seen as a hazardous province of fraudulence and quackery.

Around the turn of the 20th century, medicine transformed into the scientific enterprise we are familiar with today. The knee-length coat transferred over from laboratory science into medicine. The “pureness” of medicine was now reflected in the white garments of both doctors and nurses. The white lab coat continued on as an embodiment of respect and a symbol for medicine, eclipsing a physician’s stethoscope or black bag.  Many patients view the white lab coat as a “cloak of compassion” and a representation of the excellent care they expect to receive from their doctor.

Besides doctors, many other healthcare professionals wear white lab coats now too, including NP’s, PA’s, and managers of other departments.

White Swan was one of the first companies to start offering white lab coats to physicians. White Swan has been providing medical professionals with lab coats, scrubs, and more for 100 years. Originating in New York City in 1916, the company is devoted to offering premium scrubs and other clothing to their customers.

From symbolizing premium care and compassion to representing a medical student’s first ceremony in school, the white coat stands as a sign of how far medicine has come.


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    Occupation: Media, Marketing and Merchandising
    Setting: King of Prussia, PA
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