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Ann Intern Med. 1979 Jul;91(1):111-6.

The doctor's white coat. The image of the physician in modern America.


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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