Dressed To Diagnose

Anna Reisman explains why doctors’ clothing matters:

In days of yore, the doctor was clearly identifiable by the white lab coat over shirt and tie, his agreeable nurse counterpart unmistakable in white dress and cap (which, depending on one’s school, 1024px-Paul_Fürst,_Der_Doctor_Schnabel_von_Rom_(Holländer_version)might be shaped like a coffee filter, sailor’s cap, or a hamantaschen).  But in the 21st century, especially in primary-care medicine, much has changed; with more categories of clinicians (nurse practitioners, physician assistants) in every sphere of medicine, the traditional clinical clothing boundaries have blurred.

The definition of what counts as professional clothing is also in flux, thanks to increasing knowledge of infectious risks. Earlier this year, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology Association (SHEA) published new guidelines for healthcare-personnel attire in hospital settings. Their goal was to balance the need for professional appearance with the obligation to minimize potential germ transmission via clothing and other doodads like ID badges and jewelry and neckties that might touch body parts or bodily fluids. The SHEA investigators’ take-home points regarding infection: White coats should be washed weekly, at the minimum; neckties should be clipped in place (70 percent of doctors in two studies admitted to having never had a tie cleaned); and institutions should strongly consider a “bare below the elbow” (BBE) policy, meaning short sleeves and no wristwatches or jewelry.

(Image via Wiki: “Paul Fürst, engraving, c. 1721, of a plague doctor of Marseilles. The plague doctor’s costume was the clothing worn by a plague doctor to protect him from airborne diseases. The costume consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a bird-like beak mask often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances (commonly lavender), along with gloves, boots, a brim hat, and an outer over-clothing garment.”)