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    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 one’s 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 couldn’t imagine them without the white coats.

    In a drugstore

    The word “uniform” is derived from “uni” (one) + “form,” 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 can’t 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 they’re not compounding medications? Why not reserve the white coat for compounding, if it’s 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: “I am the expert. By comparison, in my presence you are uninformed and ignorant.”

    Is that really the message we want to convey? And if so, why?

    Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at [email protected]. His books "Chain Drug Stores Are Dangerous" and "Pharmacy Exposed" are available at Amazon.com

    Dennis Miller, RPh
    Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] His books ...


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    • [email protected]
      Thanks for sharing this article. I agree with you as you said that white coat is worn as a sign of authority and expectation of respect and I truly believe. A white coat is a sign for medical profession and yes, it gets dirty very easily in labs and in hospitals, but if we have more than one white coat, we can wear it alternately. But I think it is not necessary to wear only white coat, you can try different colors also. One of my friends recommended me some online stores like salusuniforms,scrubandbeyond, cheroke to get varieties of coats with different colors.
    • DougBennett
      Considering the problems with holdups in retail pharmacies, we probably should wear white coats to help conceal our shoulder holsters.
    • Mrs. cFazio Boss
      Poppy cock. Give pharmacist credit. We strive to be TRUSTED, we strive to STAY CURRENT, we strive to give the BEST HEALTHCARE ADVICE to patients and doctors even if we have to spend hours researching to do it. For decades the coat has been a protection from spills, a depository for pens and references and an identification to non healthcare people as a medical resource. In 30 years I have not known ONE SINGLE pharmacist who was pompous because he/she wears a white coat!!!!
    • Anonymous
      As a along-time pharmacist, graduating at the height of non-conformity (not the 1960s), I could see where wearing a 'white coat' might impart some false sense of something, but the main reason is that it for the non-sight impaired it affords a certain degree of noting 'who's in charge'. Many patients, I think, are under the mistaken opinion, sometimes that whoever works in the pharmacy knows about drugs, and I have worked many times with the gal newly promoted from the jewelry department who projects the opinion that she thinks she knows the answer to a worried mother about what kind of cold medicine is best for a baby. I've even had technicians in the hospital try to give the impression that they know more than the pharmacist. That, and the fact that jackets usually have nice large pockets.
    • Anonymous
      Torn on this one. I feel that there is definitely many patients who have been brain-washed into thinking white-coat= awesome health care provider, so for the sake of those shallow folks we can argue to continue the white coat thing. By the way, the most talented, respected and experienced neurosurgeon in the area (not only spinal surgery but brain surgery as well) often does not wear a white coat. I still would go to him any day, and would never consider someone else, especially not just because they always wear a white coat. Non-greasy hair and obvious dirt on hands, face and clothes might be more of a no-brainer, if only for perceived or real concern about in-advertently being infected Many health care providers, including sometimes pharmacists, are arrogant, and I can see where the white coat increases the "sub-ordinate" mindset from the perspective of both the patient and the provider. We both put on our pants one leg at a time, and there are many folks that I would rather have as a friend, rather that someone who is ugly in their heart Do not twist my words. I am not saying there are not a lot of compassionate health care providers wearing white coats. I am saying a white coat says virtually nothing about a person, and sometimes a white coat can be a hindrance to real relationships and actually focusing on the highest priority (what is on our inside)
    • Mr. BLamparelli
      I feel uncomfortable NOT wearing a shirt and tie (nice shirt, nice tie and tied correctly). Along with acting professionally, maybe looking like a professional gives a better chance of be treated like one, even if you work for a chain. Coworkers have always said they treat me different than they do themselves. Gray hair might also help but I'm not advocating that for all quite yet.
    • Mr. SLefkow
      Allow me to support, in the strongest possible terms, the wearing of a white coat (or jacket, or "sideswipe"). I have visited pharmacies where the RPh was wearing street clothes in which I would not be caught dead. The lack of respect for his customers as well as for himself was clear. In my tenure as a community pharmacist, when my customers would ask "Hey, Doc, what d'you have for......" and then trust my advice and recommendation, I found that the white "sideswipe" implied professionalism and confidence. My techs wore light blue coats or conservative street clothes. In addition , I do not subscribe to 'white-coat hypertension' for a moment. If. in fact, there is such a thing, I feel it is transient and depends on the attitude of the wearer. Sincerity, empathy, concern set my pharmacy apart from the double-sized, same-services pharmacy opposite -- and I feel that my white outfit had a lot to to with it. When I go into a white-coat chain or a street-clothes indie, and can't tell the Tech from the RPh, even as a pharmacist I lose a droplet of respect for the "guy behind the counter".
    • AmeliaHartmann
      I have never viewed my white coat as anything other than what it is...a coat with pockets where I can stash my pens, my super secret doctor cell phone list, and my little black notebook filled with important numbers and passwords. As a relatively young, diminutive, female pharmacist, my white coat also identifies me to patients as the pharmacist - the one to talk to if they have a question about their medication. On the relatively few days when I have forgotten my jacket, I notice that people don't take me quite as seriously when I'm trying to talk with them about their prescriptions. They tend to look around, trying to find the "real" pharmacist (i.e., the one with the white coat...or the man...). You likely never had very many, if any, patients, doubt what you told them simply because of your gender or your height. "In addition, the white coat is worn as a sign of authority and expectation of respect. The white coat conveys this message: “I am the expert. By comparison, in my presence you are uninformed and ignorant.” I couldn't disagree with this more...I don't hold an expectation of respect simply for wearing a jacket - I earn your respect by what I do while I wear the jacket. And any pharmacist who is a jerk enough to treat their customer as uninformed and ignorant will likely be a jerk with or without a white coat on.
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