Give Now

A Moment of Science

Dressed Down Docs

Have you ever wondered why doctors wear white lab coats? The answer is that doctors began wearing those long, white coats in the mid-1800s for a few reasons.

Assembly of doctors

Photo: Waldo Jaquith (flickr)

It has been a tradition for doctors like these to wear white lab coats since the 1800s

Have you ever wondered why doctors wear white lab coats?

The answer is that doctors began wearing those long, white coats in the mid-1800s for a few reasons.

First, because scientists wore white coats, and around that time science had done a lot to debunk tried and true medical treatments like blood letting and paved the way for new, more scientifically sound cures.  Thus, to appear more scientifically with it, doctors started wearing white coats, too.

Second, medicine used to be a much bloodier profession than it is today. Doctors found the white coats useful in keeping patients’ blood off their topcoats.

As for why doctors still wear white coats today, chalk it up to tradition. The lab coat is a symbol of distinction and prestige. Not just anyone can throw on a white coat, after all.

What’s interesting, though, is that a few studies disagree on whether patients care that doctors wear white coats or not. A few years ago, a study out of Britain found that most patients wanted their doctors to wear white coats, but a more recent study has found that American patients, don’t care what doctors wear as long, as they provide good care.

In fact, the study suggested that the formal white coat get-up can create a barrier between doctor and patient that hampers treatment. Doctors that dress down, meanwhile, can make patients feel more comfortable and foster a health care relationship that’s more like a partnership.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science