Patient Perspectives - Does Wearing A White Lab Coat Affect How You Are Perceived?


There's nothing more intimidating for a patient than to see an unknown medical professional walk into the room. Whether the patient is in for a routine medical exam or to find out the test results of a biopsy, a patient that is sitting there waiting for someone to come in is going to be nervous. Someone in a white coat is going to talk with them and give them information that may affect their life.

But is it the white coat that really matters? Studies have shown that the white coat does affect the way you are perceived as a medical professional - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. You should take into account that wearing a white coat means different things to different patients, so learning about their possible perceptions can give you insight into their reaction to you.

One of the first associations of the white coat is power over the patient. Someone wearing a white coat is seen as an authority for the patient. Even those that aren't medical professionals per se - medical researchers, front desk clerks, and others in a medical office - can be given personal medical information because they appear to be authoritative figures. With this assumption of authority, some patients may defer completely to whatever person wearing the white coat has to say. And while this makes for an easy appointment, it may not be the best course of action for the patient. Be sure to ask the following questions if your patient seems to be deferring to everything you say:

  • How do you feel about the diagnosis?

  • How do you feel about the treatments I've suggested?

  • Would you like to set up a second opinion?

  • Are there any questions that you have?

  • Would you like to hear about the alternatives?

When you give your patient multiple options to talk about their feelings, they will begin to feel as though they are in a relationship, rather than a one sided situation.

A white lab coat can also be perceived as something more negative to other patients. To some, the white coat can be seen as a 'high and mighty' symbol for the doctor. They may see it portraying an attitude that says 'I'm better than you' and begin to feel distaste for the person wearing it. If you feel like the patient is reacting in this manner, you might want to try walking into the office without the white coat on and then put it on when you are entering the room. This will show that you only wear the coat when you are actively working with the patient, rather than as a status symbol.

Just like any uniform for any other profession, the white lab coat can affect the way you are perceived by your patients. And this can be a good thing. For some patients, it's reassuring to see the white coat as they associate it with someone being smarter on the subject than they are. They trust the person to tell them the truth and to give them a straight answer when asked. But patients will also want you to have all the answers they need - and even you can't know everything.

You will find that certain patients, like those that are older, favor physicians and medical professionals that wear the white coat, while those that are younger would rather see you in more casual clothes. In the end, this choice is up to you (and perhaps the hospital you work for), but whatever helps your patients connect with you is that best choice for their health and your ability to serve them well.

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About Author
Grant Eckert is a writer for Tafford Uniforms. Tafford Uniforms is a leading provider of Nursing Uniforms | Nurse Uniforms

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