Good-bye White Coat, Hello Stethoscope

14 February 2020

The white lab coat has been associated with science for over 100 years and particularly in the field of medicine. It became popular in the early 1900’s, when degree holding physicians wanted to distinguish themselves from those who didn’t hold academic credentials. This saw the white lab coat become a symbol of academic and clinical expertise.

In 1993 the first “White Coat Ceremony”, (where white coats were presented to first year medical students), was conducted by the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Other medical schools quickly followed suit, providing a white coat to welcome medical students into the profession.

Although the ceremonies continue today, the ability to wear the white coat while practising has become impractical and less accepted within the healthcare system. To ensure good hygiene, reduce the risk of infection in patients and to make doctors appear approachable, doctors are wearing the white coat less.

With this in mind, the ANU Medical School welcomes our students with a “Stethoscope Ceremony” instead. A practical gift, but one that creates a direct connection with the patient. The stethoscope is used for checking the heart-beat and breath of the patient – the two vital signs of life. Through the stethoscope the student is reminded that they are a direct link to the health care of the patient.

Director, Imogen Mitchell told the incoming students, “You may ask why a stethoscope, why is there not a white coat ceremony like every other medical school. But as I said earlier, the ANU Medical School is unique, we are the only medical school in Australia to have a medical degree, as the MChD (Medicinae ac Chirurgiae Doctoranda) and so, unsurprisingly, being the contemporary school we are, we decided white coats were out and stethoscopes were in…”

We wish our new medical students all the best over the next four years and encourage them to wear their stethoscopes with pride.