Informal attire is turning into more preferred among medical professionals, but patients prefer white coats

Informal attire is turning into more preferred among medical professionals, but patients prefer white coats

August 06, 2021

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In a modern study, patients explained they viewed medical professionals in informal attire these types of as a fleece jacket in put of a white coat as less expert and considerably less expert.

The conclusions, printed in JAMA Network Open up, also unveiled that informal clothes led to misidentification of roles, especially amongst feminine medical professionals, and that woman doctors have been generally rated as a lot less professional than their male counterparts, even when putting on a white coat.


“The findings of the analyze counsel that female physicians are significantly less likely than male medical professionals to be discovered as physicians and far more likely to be misidentified as nurses, health care technicians or health practitioner assistants,” Jordan P. Steinberg, MD, PhD, of the section of plastic and reconstructive surgical procedure at Johns Hopkins College School of Drugs, and colleagues wrote. “This misunderstanding could be related with prevailing stereotypes.”

Inspite of a shift in the U.S. wellness care workforce, most medical professionals are nevertheless men (604,560 adult men vs. 293,120 women), whereas most nurses are ladies (3.2 million gals vs. 330,000 males), according to the researchers.

“The public’s increased publicity to male medical professionals and woman nurses contributes to the development of gender-based mostly qualified stereotypes and connected biases,” they wrote.

Steinberg and colleagues conducted a population-based study by the Amazon Mechanical Turk system from May perhaps 2020 to June 2020. The study cohort was comprised of 487 adults in the U.S. The suggest age of respondents was 36.2 years 53.4% had been girls 76.4% determined as white and 6.8% as Black.

The respondents offered solutions on a five-stage Likert scale about where and how often they see overall health care experts donning white coats, scrubs, fleece-blended sweaters or vests and softshell jackets, and the most crucial attributes in a health and fitness treatment expert: encounter, professionalism or friendliness.

Respondents also rated on a six-position Likert scale the expertise degree, professionalism and friendliness of gurus in a sequence of images that showed products donning many overall health treatment apparel. Their choices for overall health care attire have been centered on a professional’s role, which incorporated nurse, technician, phlebotomist, relatives medical professional, skin doctor and surgeon.

Perceptions and gender bias

The the vast majority of respondents documented seeing wellbeing treatment practitioners in white coats “most of the time” (42.5%), in scrubs “sometimes” (36.6%) and in fleece and softshell jackets “rarely” (37%), in accordance to the scientists. When a practitioner in a white coat was perceived as extra skilled (mean professionalism rating: 4.9 for white coat vs. 3.1 for fleece jacket vs. 3.3 for softshell jacket P < .001), a practitioner in a softshell jacket appeared more friendly to respondents (mean friendliness score: 3.6 for white coat vs. 3.1 for softshell P < .003).

Older respondents were significantly more likely than younger respondents to perceive a model in a white coat with business attire underneath as having more experience (P < .009). Also, Steinberg and colleagues reported that fleece jackets with scrubs underneath reduced professionalism scores for all regions in the U.S. except the West. Most respondents reported a preference for surgeons wearing a white coat with scrubs underneath and, for family physicians and dermatologists, a white coat with business attire underneath (P < .001).

When comparing men and women, respondents perceived a male model wearing business attire with any outerwear item as significantly more professional than a female model wearing the same attire (mean professionalism score: 65.8 for men vs. 56.2 for women). When shown photos of models wearing only hospital or fashion scrubs, respondents still perceived the male model as more professional than the female model (P < .001). Moreover, male models in white coats with business innerwear were more likely to be identified as a physician than female models in the same attire (88.3% for men vs. 71.7% for women P < .001), according to Steinberg and colleagues.

“The white coat still has powerful symbolism, and ‘white coat ceremonies’ continue to be a rite of passage for medical students. Our study seems to indicate that, despite this, the white coat does little to address the problems of role misidentification and gender bias, particularly as (a) more and more clinical personnel these days may be offered white coats to wear, and (b) many hospital or office personnel have come to prefer casual wear,” Steinberg told Healio Primary Care. “In the COVID-19 era, where there again is heightened emphasis on disinfection, infrequently laundered white coats may also be disfavored.”

He added that the research team suspected that gender bias and physician role misidentifications would persist “irrespective of formal vs. casual wear.”

The ‘symbolic’ white coat

In a related editorial, Amalia Cochran, MD, FACS, an associate professor of surgery at University of Utah Health Care, and Gilbert R. Upchurch Jr., MD, a professor of surgery and chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, weighed in on the longevity of the white coat culture in medicine. The history of the white coat dates back to the latter part of the 19th century, though resistance to it has mounted over the last 20 years, according to Cochran and Upchurch.

“Although public perceptions related to expertise may still favor white coats, perceptions of expertise also still widely favor older male physicians. It is therefore intriguing that for women physicians, no clear benefit to the patient-physician relationship can be attributed to wearing a white coat,” they wrote. “This work still does not help us to unravel the relationship, if any, between patient biases and clinical outcomes. Perhaps the message embedded in the article by Xun et al is simply that the white coat’s importance is primarily symbolic and that it is no longer a prerequisite for physicians to provide high-quality and compassionate clinical care.”


Cochran A, Upchurch GR. JAMA Netw Open. 2021doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.19881.

Xun H, et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2021doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.17779.

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