Thursday, August 7, 2008

White Coat Syndrome

Today's entry comes to us from Jason Moskovitz, a fellow intern at Yosan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He's also a medical qigong intern, herbologist, and certified qigong instructor. Jason lives in Los Angeles with his wife Breanna and son Bohdan. You can email jason at jason.moskovitz (at)

In the short time I've worn a white coat as a clinician I've encountered many patients who've been intimidated or even frightened by the message it sends. Most people, myself included, grew up with doctors in white coats, doling out scary news or dogmatic orders regarding our life and health. No wonder the people I'm seeing so automatically put themselves in an inferior, docile position.

"I know I should be getting some exercise."

"But I just love my nightly glass of wine."

"I realize smoking is wrong."

These are the things I hear from people who are so clearly uncomfortable saying them. You might be surprised to know, as are my patients, that I and many of my TCM colleagues don't hold our patients to our suggestions. We communicate information and if it's not well received because a lifestyle, behavior pattern, or addiction is too well engrained; then we take a step back and ensure the patient that we, in these white coats, are not here to keep people from doing what they want. If people want to smoke themselves to death, they have that choice. But for those that are clear they want change, they'll find themselves in a supportive union with the TCM physician. Either way, the white coat eventually gets stripped of its power and the patient sees they'll find support no matter how they decide to live. Engendering that deep level of trust sets the foundation from which progressive life-altering steps can be taken.

It's too bad not many people know the history of the white coat. It's current pristine symbol of superiority couldn't be further from its roots. Yes, its use was primarily to communicate an antiseptic practice, despite many physicians noting their tendency to spread infection due to the lack of regular laundering. But one reason they were white was to display the blood they'd been working with. More blood meant more experience. Ironically, today you might only find that image in the local butcher shop.

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