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The Doctor's White Coat: The Image of the Physician in Modern America

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This work was supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Dan W. Blumhagen, M.D.; The Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, University of Washington, Varsity Apartments, HQ-18, 3747 15th Avenue N.E.; Seattle, WA 98195.

Seattle, Washington

© 1979 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1979;91(1):111-116. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-91-1-111
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The social perception of the physician has changed during the past century. This is reflected in the changing use of a symbol of the profession, the white coat. This dress originated in operating rooms, scientific laboratories, and modern hospitals, each of which contributed to the social understanding of what it means to be a healer. Adding the cultural significance of "whiteness" reveals a broad spectrum of meaning surrounding the healing encounter, whose most important aspects are the authority and supernatural powers of scientific physicians and the protection of patients. A major force aiding in the adoption of this symbol was the shift in sick care from home to hospital, where it served to legitimate otherwise socially taboo behavior. Recent changes in how scientific medicine is publicly viewed have eroded these established meanings. The resulting tensions affect individual patient-physician encounters and interactions between the profession and society as a whole.





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