As many of you know, I am currently surviving acute care nurse practitioner school and this happens to be the first semester with a lab coat requirement. I never gave the idea of a lab coat much thought until someone told me I had to wear one. From that moment, my disdain for the lab coat commenced.
I reluctantly began my search for a decent lab coat early in the semester, which was too late technically, and finding one proved to be a struggle. First of all, I am 5’10” tall and have a slender frame. I tried on the traditional “one-size-fits-all” coat and was swallowed alive. Then, I moved to the grey’s anatomy brand women’s lab coat, which fit a little better, however, the sleeves were three inches too short with no hem to spare. But, those were my only two choices, so I opted for the women’s version.
The night before clinicals, I ironed my crisp, white, coat for the following day. I awoke the next morning, made my coffee, packed my book bag, and my lunch bag. Then I considered to myself, “How am I going to transport this lab coat? I can’t wear it under my book bag because it will wrinkle and I can’t put it in my book bag because it will wrinkle, so I guess I will carry it,” I thought.
I heaved my 30 pound book bag on my shoulders, carried my lunch bag on my left arm, and my Yeti coffee mug in my right hand. I draped my lab coat over my right forearm and started walking to clinicals. Within 10 minutes, my coffee had blown out of the top of my Yeti and dribbled down my entire lab coat. From that moment on, I was over it.
This made me wonder, “What was the history behind a lab coat anyway?” Life in the hospital now, certainly isn’t like it was in the early 1900s. Although lab coats did originate out of utility, to protect physicians from bodily fluid, they now have just transitioned to an identifier. Even so, they are confusing because so many people wear them, thus they really aren’t identifiers; they are dividers.
In an acute care setting, almost everyone who does anything near a patient, with the possibility of being spattered with bodily fluids wears scrubs, including myself. Those who wear “normal” clothes are doctors or practitioners who ask the patients a few questions, chart surf, and write their note.
In no way am I minimizing their importance, this is just their job. If any one of these practitioners were to perform a procedure, they would wear a sterile gown over their normal clothes, not a lab coat. Trust me, no one can actually do a procedure in a lab coat. These days, in the ICU, practitioners wear them to stay warm because they have no other purpose, except to carry MRSA from room to room. Which brings me to my next point…
Has anyone ever actually taken a look at how filthy most lab coats are? My picture for this post is a collection of provider lab coats. Check the cuffs and collar; those are my favorite parts. There are many studies proving that lab coats carry all kinds of disgusting bacteria and with unimaginably fragile patients in our hospitals, this is just not necessary. Wearing your lab coat every day is the equivalent of wearing the same pair of scrubs every day. I wear scrubs in all of my clinicals, but I wash them every, single day. Lab coats are washed at MINIMUM, every two weeks.
Back to my experience… When I arrived to clinicals, one of my well-prepared compadres had a Tide stick for me to save my lab coat. So, I spent 20 minutes attempting to dilute the coffee stains on my coat. I put it on and walked up to the unit to meet my clinical subjects and mingle with the staff. However, I felt so “off” wearing this coat. I have always been passionate about leveling the playing field between all of the providers in healthcare. I believe we all serve our own, beneficial, unique purpose for the sake of optimal patient care. Therefore, I felt like I was separating myself from my counterparts and patients with this lab coat. In fact, I wondered if I was giving myself “white coat syndrome,” which takes me to my next point…
White coat syndrome is real, folks. Patients are intimidated by white coats for various reasons, or maybe they are just intimidated by going to the doctor, but you get my drift. Even psychiatrists rarely wear them for obvious reasons, which furthers my point even more.
I can hear the words of my instructor echoing in my ears as I type this. She would say, “You should be proud to be a nurse practitioner…you need to wear your lab coat in any clinical area to identify yourself.” Well, thanks, but no thanks. I am proud to be a nurse practitioner student, which is why I will wear my name badge, which clearly identifies me as a nurse. When I walk on to a unit or in to a patient’s room, I will introduce myself like so: “Hi, I’m Danielle, I am the nurse practitioner student who will be working with your other team members today, if you have any concerns, please let me know.” Done and done, all without a lab coat.
Now, it is important to note I do not work in an outpatient setting. Even if I did, I still would not wear a lab coat, but if you want one in an outpatient setting, I might accept it a little more. Also, I do understand, that some providers actually like their lab coats.
So, all in all, I am of course writing to give you some food for thought. When you are in your clinical setting take note of who is wearing a lab coat and what they do for their job. I guarantee you will be surprised. For me, a lab coat will never work, I’m much more of a scrubs and isolation gown kind of girl.
As always, we get each other.