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The White Coat

I don’t know how many people realize that doctors really have to EARN their long white coats. For them, it is the reward for years of schooling — 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school. Medical students do get to wear white coats, but they are short waist-length ones that just don’t capture the same authority as the thigh-length ones. At graduation, each of these students will become official with the "Doctor" title, MD (or DO) initials and the long white coat.

Unfortunately, far too many doctors feel that this personal achievement is the complete journey to the white coat and for the white coat. They often come to this conclusion by the actions of so many around them who don’t merely celebrate their accomplishment but elevate their status. Though these young doctors in freshly starched white coats still require additional years of necessary specialty training (family practice, internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, etc.) in order to properly provide quality and effective care to patients, they are given such respect, power and reverence that it can counteract, or even negate, the humility that should actually cover them.

Please do not misunderstand me in that the impact of doctors has been life-changing, life-sustaining and life-saving with profound effects on the quality of our human history. This white coat has::

  • pursued advances and improvements

  • tirelessly provided care day and night

  • saved countless lives

  • cried over lives lost

  • been frustrated by the inability to heal or improve

  • persuaded the most stubborn to follow directions

But, this white coat has also:

  • caused harm

  • turned its back on some and closed the doors on others with great disregard and disrespect

  • been prideful, arrogant and condescending

  • selectively doled out titrated quality of care based on race, gender, sexual identity, age…

  • sold out for money and personal gain

  • relinquished significant control over the provision and the direction of health care to businesses and industry

  • abused its power by acting without permission, morals and ethics

I hung up my long white coat many years ago. (It is forced out of storage only for mandatory ID badge pictures.) I’ve instead opted to remain VISIBLE and vulnerable to my patients and colleagues. I will not claim my journey to the authority of the white coat complete but recognize that there is much more experience to gain, knowledge to learn and trust to gain. I want to allow my patients to see who I am, feel how I treat them and hear what I say as the window to the quality of service they will receive from me. I want to earn their respect from our interactions rather than expect it due to my clothing. Too much disservice and great disparities have developed because of that approach and so much pain and neglect have occurred by the omission or deletion of the essence of doctoring — serving others in need.

So, I want to take all the good traits of the white coat and strive to counteract the negatives. Remember that we are trained to be sympathetic (and for many of us, empathetic) healers who should embody the compassion of our own Creator who lavishes us with love from beginning to eternity. Embrace those godly qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Who wouldn’t yearn for a doctor with these characteristics to help them in their time of need and distress?

Our job is simple if we take of the coat, turn off our egos, silence our selfish desires and:

Listen, respect others, accept everyone as humans in need, patiently interact, teach and educate, adapt care to their reality, innovate for quality and complete care, use culturally and socially relevant research and ADVOCATE for each one and everyone.

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