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A white coat or laboratory coat (often abbreviated to lab coat) is a knee-length overcoat/smock worn by professionals in the medical field or by those involved in laboratory work. The coat protects their street clothes and also serves as a simple uniform. The garment is made from white or light-colored cotton, linen, or cotton polyester blend, allowing it to be washed at high temperature and make it easy to see if it is clean. Similar coats are a symbol of learning in Argentina, where they are worn by students. In Tunisia and Mozambique, teachers wear white coats to protect their street clothes from chalk.
When used in the laboratory, they protect against accidental spills, e.g., acids. In this case they usually have long sleeves and are made of an absorbent material, such as cotton, so that the user can be protected from the chemical. Some lab coats have buttons at the end of the sleeves, to secure them around the wrist so that they do not hang into beakers of chemicals. Short-sleeved lab coats also exist where protection from substances such as acid is not necessary, and are favoured by certain scientists, such as microbiologists, avoiding the problem of hanging sleeves altogether, combined with the ease of washing the forearms (an important consideration in microbiology).
White coats are sometimes seen as the distinctive dress of physicians, who have worn them for over 100 years. In the nineteenth century, respect for the certainty of science was in stark contrast to the quackery and mysticism of nineteenth century medicine. To emphasize the transition to the more scientific approach to modern medicine, physicians sought to represent themselves as scientists, and began to wear the most recognizable symbol of the scientist, the white laboratory coat.
The modern white coat was introduced to medicine in the late 1800s as a symbol of cleanliness
A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom found that the majority of patients prefer their doctors to wear white coats, but the majority of doctors prefer other clothing, such as scrubs. The study found that psychiatrists were among the least likely to wear white coats. Some medical doctors view the coats as hot and uncomfortable, and many feel that they spread infection.
White coat hypertension
Some patients who have their blood pressure measured in a clinical setting have higher readings than they do when measured in a home setting. This is apparently a result of patients feeling more relaxed when they are at home. The phenomenon is sometimes called "white coat hypertension," in reference to the traditional white coats worn in a clinical setting, though the coats themselves may have nothing to do with the elevated readings.
The term is also used as verbal shorthand for psychiatric orderlies or other personnel and may be used, in a usually jocular manner, to imply someone's lunacy. In the 1966 song, They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!, Napoleon XIV fictionalized the public's view of the symbolic relationship between such institutions and white coats in the following lyrics:
They're coming to take me away ho ho hee hee ha haaa!
To the funny farm,
Where life is beautiful all the time.
And I'll be happy to see those nice young men
In their clean white coats,
And they're coming to take me away ha haaa!
White versus black
Until the mid-1920s, students who were examining cadavers would wear black lab coats to show respect for the dead. Black lab coats were used in early biomedical and microbiology laboratories because any contamination that settled on them was easily visible.
White coat ceremony
A white coat ceremony is a relatively new ritual that marks one's entrance into medical school and, more recently, into a number of related health-related schools and professions. It originated in Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993 and involves a formal "robing" or "cloaking" in white lab coats.
In industries and institutions related to biology, white and green coats are used. Typically, white coats are used in laboratory work.
For added safety, a variant of the lab coat, called a "Howie" style lab coat is often adopted . It is called such after a 1978 report commissioned by the UK department of Health and Social Security to codify standard clinical laboratory practices, chaired by J. W. Howie. Among the codified standards was protective clothing; the type of wrap-around full coverage lab coat that had been in use in the UK for over a hundred years was nicknamed the "Howie-Style" coat to indicate its compliance with the provisions of this report. It has the buttons on the left flank, elasticated wrists and a mandarin collar, and is quite similar to a chef's uniform. It is designed to minimize pathogen contact with street clothes.
Use as a school uniform
White coats which resemble lab coats are worn by students and teachers of most public primary schools as a daily uniform in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Spain and Bolivia. It also was formerly worn in past decades in Paraguay and Chile.
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