The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Jon at
 by Jon Burras
White Coat Disease
2019 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved

     Every culture has occupations that require a specific uniform for that particular job. Most often you can tell a plumber or mechanic by his overalls. A nurse will often wear a tunic or pastel scrubs. A police officer is cleanly dressed and looks authoritative. Even a business executive sporting his fine Italian suit is dressed in a uniform.

     Every uniform has a symbolic nature to it with special meanings and significance. For instance, the Pope will wear bright angelic colors to represent to his flock his superiority and presumptive infallibility. A police officer's uniform is meant to gain the respect and authoritative status of the police force. A native American chieftain with his brightly colored feathered headdress is said to emphasize his alpha status in the tribe.

     In today's culture we have another very defined uniform and that is the medical white lab coat worn by many in the field of medicine. This solid white coat often is unbuttoned and is worn over other professional clothing. The white lab coat usually is mid-length and sometimes down to one's knees.

    What is the significance of the white lab coat? This particular uniform is frequently worn by medical professionals to exert a sense of "authoritarianism" and "officialness" over patients. The symbol of someone who is in charge and is "all-knowing" are other elements of the white coat code of conduct. There is also a sense of a technical nature and "scientific" underpinnings as lab technicians first wore these coats nearly a hundred years ago when studying microbes in a lab with a microscope. As medicine moved from a nature-based system to a technical and scientific system the white lab coat was important in identifying the medical doctor as some sort of "healing technician".

     The white lab coat often infers a sense of utmost respect and intelligence. One who wears a white lab coat somehow has a magical power of knowing everything and of being infallible. The words that come out of the mouth of someone wearing a white lab coat seem not to be challenged and are absolute. This is why we often see others besides medical doctors wearing the white coat. These professionals might be dentists, pharmacists and even hospital administrators. If one can wear the white lab coat they bring with them a sense of authority and cannot be questioned.

     The patient/doctor relationship is far from equal. The AMA (American Medical Association) has worked tirelessly to disempower patients rights and to uplift the influence of its members—medical doctors. You will often hear a television commercial warning patients not to do anything without first asking their doctor's advice. This includes taking supplements, changing one's diet, exercising or any emotional concern. This is despite the fact that most medical doctors are not trained in nutrition, the proper use of supplements, exercise physiology or emotional counseling. The white lab coat is just a further reminder of this disempowerment campaign.

     White lab coat disease occurs when a patient fool-heartily believes everything a medical doctor says. Patients often believe that those who wear the white lab coat are a mother or father figure and cannot be challenged. Some see the bearer of the lab coat as a god or superior being with infinite knowledge and experience. The white lab coat for some represents this barrier between mortals and the supreme beings. This is as if a patient is somehow hypnotized by the allure of the white coat and cannot challenge or disagree with anyone who might wear one. It is symbolic of talking back to mother or father and when that happened in that past we were usually punished.

     Some people become very nervous when they see a white lab coat. In a hospital their blood pressure might rise because they have some unrecognized fear of being around authority figures. The white coat is often symbolic of a former teacher or parent who was a strong disciplinarian and those emotions are once again rekindled. There is a symptom that frequents in hospitals called "white coat hypertension" as many patients will have a sudden rise in blood pressure at the sight of a white lab coat.

     America has a love affair with doctors and we put doctors on pedestals as the all-knowing. This illusion prevents us from challenging and questioning anyone in a white lab coat, whether that is a surgeon about to operate on your wife or an administrator who is trying to make you do something that you do not feel is in your best interest. Other cultures have a much more subdued view of medical doctors, often treating them the same as a teacher or plumber. This elevated status of medical doctors in America often creates a doctor worship culture where the white coat is often like the bright robes of the Pope. These outfits symbolize an infallible and superior being.

     Imagine if you were called into your doctor's office with some important news. What if the medical doctor in his white lab coat said that based on his interpretation of your test results that you have a deadly and incurable disease. He informs you that you have four months to live. If you put all of your trust in his "magical powers" and diagnosis then there is a pretty good chance that you will live for another four months and then perish.

     What if you reject the opinion of this medical doctor in his white lab coat and you decide that his opinion is worthless. You seek  several other opinions with a much more positive outcome and you go on to live a long and happy life. There is the power of the white lab coat to create a death sentence if you believe that the person wearing it has some information or power that is not available to you or to other people who might be able to guide you.

     The white lab coat can have the wisdom to educate as well as the deception to lie and to manipulate data. The white lab coat can be about a bonded trust between you and your medical professional or a cloth barrier that wards off true intimacy and honesty. The white coat can be one of empathy (like after a surgery and a surgeon enters into the waiting room to inform you that the surgery on your loved one went well). The white lab coat can also be about coldness and separation. The white lab coat is akin to the firefighters uniform with many tasks and duties.

     The reality is this. Don't allow a white lab coat to keep you from asserting your questions and your rights. Don't be blinded by the shininess of the symbolic armor and learn to have a respectful but equal relationship with your medical professionals. Don't be bullied by a medical doctor or an administrator in a hospital trying to get you to do something that might not be in your best interest.

     What this means is to learn how to have an honest and fair relationship with your parents, your kids, your teachers and your authority figures in your life like medical doctors, police officers and clergy members. There is more to it than the wardrobe we wear but why we wear it and its long-lasting implications.