Each year on March 30, we celebrate National Doctors’ Day. We give thanks to the physicians who have impacted and improved our health and our lives. With COVID-19 affecting the world, healthcare workers are pulling long hours in risky health environments. We are more than thankful to them for their bravery and sacrifice. Our physicians are working to ensure that as many lives as possible be saved in the wake of the constant growth of case numbers.
To celebrate National Doctors’ Day, we are examining the clothing physicians wear each day, which creates the image of healthcare professionals we expect to see. When you think of a doctor, you might imagine someone in scrubs, a long white lab coat, or perhaps even more formal workwear. The reasons doctors dress as they do may be related to their activities for the day or the position they hold. Below we outline the everyday apparel of doctors and the history behind them.
One of the more recognized symbols of a doctor, aside from a stethoscope, is a doctor’s white coat. White coats make it easy to pick out physicians among a sea of healthcare workers.
The history of this garment dates back over a century. Before this, the coats were an entirely different color. In the 1800s, physicians wore black for the sake of formality. This color was also selected to pay tribute to the dead. Less modernized medicine meant those who saw the doctor were not likely to live much longer.
The preferred color of apparel for professionals in medicine and religion shifted from black to white in the 1900s. White symbolized cleanliness and purity. This shift was inspired by medical discoveries surrounding bacteria, precisely that of cholera.
White coats remain a popular clothing choice for physicians, with ¾ of this population wearing them. The ¼ who don’t wear white coats are in favor of more casual attire and claim that wearing white coats can make patients nervous.
The only negative to this is that many studies have found a correlation between the white coat and a patient’s opinion of their healthcare provider’s knowledge. In most cases, patients reported that physicians who wore white coats seemed more professional and intellectual. It seems the decision to wear a white coat or not depends on the disposition a physician wants to project to their patients. Do they want to be seen as an expert in their field or as someone who is more approachable and relatable?
Sometimes worn underneath white coats, scrubs are the uniform of choice for nurses and surgeons. These garments allow more movement and can be easily laundered when they get dirty. They are also relatively cheap so they can be replaced if and when they get stained. Scrubs come in a variety of colors and patterns with green and blues being popular for surgeons.
Historically, surgeons wore aprons over their day clothes when it came time to operate. During the early 1900s, health pandemics demanded greater protection and sanitation when it came to a physician’s garments. Physicians began wearing surgical masks, gloves, caps, and scrubs.
Business attire is a clothing preference adopted mainly by professionals in medical specialties with a more considerable amount of consultation appointments. Often physicians wear these outfits under their white coats.
Business attire is also referred to as professional attire. This is categorized as the type of clothing one might wear to an interview. For men, this includes slacks and a dress shirt or, in some cases, a suit. For women, this includes slacks or a skirt and a dress shirt, or a length-appropriate dress.
Because this type of clothing can vary, many hospitals have dress codes which physicians are required to follow.
A Note on Textile Hygiene
Although the white coat may be a symbol of purity and cleanliness and are worn in combination with scrubs or business attire, studies find these clothing items often harbor germs. Wearing this item without washing it often enough can put a patient’s health in jeopardy. For this reason, many hospitals in the U.K. have banned white coats. Other countries are continuing to allow physicians to wear these items with the caveat that they have more than a single coat and that they launder them frequently.
White coats are not the only thing worn by physicians that can transmit germs. Jewelry, sleeves, and additional accessories are suspect, which is why many healthcare providers minimize or eliminate these items from their wardrobe altogether.
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