Dear pharmacists: Are those white coats really necessary?
In pharmacy school
Many of my classmates wore their white coats to all their classes, not just for the lab exercises where the coats were required.
I can understand wearing a white coat to protect oneâs clothes from the chemicals we were exposed to in pharmaceutics lab. But why wear a white coat to class lectures?
I think it primarily involves ego. Some of my classmates wore their white coats so consistently that I couldnât imagine them without the white coats.
In a drugstore
The word âuniformâ is derived from âuniâ (one) + âform,â i.e., one form. The uniform serves to establish order within the ranks of those who wear it by suppressing individuality. Uniformity and conformity are the basis of chain pharmacy. The goal is for every outlet of the chain to be identical with the others.
At some chains, techs wear white coats, which makes it difficult for customers to determine who is a pharmacist and who is a tech. Similarly, uniforms often cause hospital patients to have difficulty determining which of the people entering their rooms are actually physicians. A uniform identifies an individual as a healthcare worker, but does little to indicate exactly what type of healthcare worker.
What is the justification for pharmacists wearing smocks or white coats at work?
Do you get enough powder on your clothes from counting pills on a pill tray to justify wearing a smock or white coat?
I worked for chains for my entire career. I canât recall ever handling toxic substances or even messy substances, with the possible exception of when I was compounding.
I assume that if you work in a hospital and handle toxic substances such as cancer chemotherapies, then wearing a smock or lab coat would be a good idea. But what kinds of messy or hazardous substances do chain pharmacists handle, when theyâre not compounding medications? Why not reserve the white coat for compounding, if itâs necessary to protect clothing?
In my experience, many pharmacists enjoy wearing a white coat at work because it conveys prestige: I am a healthcare professional.
In addition, the white coat is worn as a sign of authority and expectation of respect. The white coat conveys this message: âI am the expert. By comparison, in my presence you are uninformed and ignorant.â
Is that really the message we want to convey? And if so, why?