White coats in the intensive care unit

Great little study in this month’s JAMA Internal Medicine. “Physician Attire in the Intensive Care Unit and Patient Family Perceptions of Physician Professional Characteristics“:

Our study provides the first description of ICU patient family perceptions and preferences of physician attire. Our results highlight 3 key observations. First, in contradiction to the theory that patients have less preference for traditional attire in the acute care setting, we observed a family preference for physicians wearing white coats or scrubs. Second, the 2 most preferred attires in our study, white coat and scrubs, share the commonality of being a uniform, which may help patients and families identify their health care providers. Third, we affirmed that regardless of dress, professionalism, neat grooming, and a clear name tag are perceived as a requisite by patient families. These results suggest that while families may not express preferences for how physicians dress, there may be subconscious associations with well-recognized physician uniforms including white coats and scrubs. Given the importance of effective communication in the ICU, physicians may want to consider that their attire could influence family rapport, trust, and confidence.


Back at Penn, I always used to assert that when it came to the short white coat, there was a fine line between “medical student” and “busboy”. As a resident, my long white coat and scrubs were so ratty that they were more like pajamas than a uniform. I still have a coat today, but the only time I ever put it on is when a news station begs me to so people will “know” I’m a doctor. Evidently, all of you think this is how physicians are supposed to dress. Crazy.

The study is short. Go read it. Accompanying editorial here.


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