Did you know that prior to the late 19th century, doctors wore black coats instead of white coats? As medical schools across the country hold their annual “White Coat Ceremony”, it is interesting to note how the white coat emerged as the pre-eminent symbol of medicine.
Until the late 19th century, the standard attire for physicians was black. At that time, black was considered the most formal color and represented the serious nature of most medical situations during that time. Even nurses dressed similarly, as many were nuns whose black habits reflected the same solemnness.
It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when new degrees of cleanliness significantly emerged and were ultimately reflected in medical clothing styles. Gone were the long black coats, replaced with clean white smocks or coats and white caps for nurses.
Today the white coat serves as a symbol of caring, compassion, and professionalism, and one today’s medical students aspire to be worthy of wearing.
Reference: Hockberg. The Doctor’s White Coat – An Historical Perspective. Virtual Mentor. April 2007, Volume 9, Number 4:310-314.