The Future of the White Coat: Do Future United States Physicians Prefer to Wear a White Coat?

William L. Johns, Kempland C. Walley, Raees Seedat, Michael M. Vosbikian, Tyler A. Gonzalez, Michael C. Aynardi, Edward K. Rodriguez


Background Physician appearance can play a role in his/her perceived competence by patients. The white coat has long been regarded as the standard uniform for physicians. However, little is understood in regard to the preference and intent to wear white coats in the future generation of physicians.


Objective To determine if medical students intend to wear a wear a white coat in their future practice


Design 1,056 medical students at 30 randomly selected United States medical schools were asked to complete a brief questionnaire assessing their preference regarding future plans for wearing a white coat as an attending physician. For all survey respondent data, respective frequencies of categorical variables for patient cohorts were compared with Fisher exact test including 2 groups or chi-square test for patient cohorts including more than 2 groups


Results Among all respondents (n=1056), the majority of United States medical students do not plan to wear a white coat in future practice (n=641, 61%). Among stratified comparison sub-groups, there was only a significant difference between first-year and more senior medical students and those respondents from medical schools based in the Western United States. No statistically significant differences were found amongst other sub-group clothing preferences including student gender, age, or future specialty.


Conclusions Despite previous literature demonstrating a patient preference toward a provider who wears a white coat, future United States. physicians do not intend to wear a white coat in their practice. First-year medical students and medical students training in the Western United States show a stronger preference for wearing a white coat, but there is no significant difference upon subgroup analysis based on student age, gender, or intended specialty. Though the findings of this study could represent a trend away from the traditional widespread donning of the white coat in future physicians, further research is needed to further understand the non-verbal, non-physical complexities of the doctor-patient relationship.

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