In a column last week about chief medical officers I mentioned physicians who were interested in a change of careers by trading their "white coats" for business suits. That got me thinking, what is it with those coats anyway?
In the land of Wimbledon, where tennis players must wear white at the All-England Tennis and Croquet Club's famous tournament, government agencies have instituted guidelines banning physicians from wearing traditional white coats and any long-sleeved garments in order to decrease the possible transmission of bacteria within hospitals. Essentially, the Brits determined that cuffs of long-sleeved shirts are bacteria carriers and should be excluded from hospitals.
The British ban on white coats and the wearing of long sleeves may have seemed a little silly to some on this side of the pond. I mean, the red coats seemed pretty silly, too, and wearing that garb didn't turn out to well for the British. Yeah, that's another story, and coat color isn't the issue.
But a group of physicians and researchers at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Aurora, CO, didn't take lightly the British physician coat and long-sleeve ban, and went looking for the proof in the puddin'.
Indeed, numerous studies have demonstrated that white coats and uniforms worn by healthcare providers are frequently contaminated with bacteria, including both methicillin-sensitive and resistant Staphylococcus aureaus and other pathogens. The contamination could come from a variety of environmental sources, from patients, or even the doctors themselves, sneezing, for instance.