Medical students' views on the white coat: A South African perspective on ethical issues

Michelle McLean*, Soornarain S. Naidoo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


There is a debate regarding the use of the white coat, a traditional symbol of the medical profession, by students. In a study evaluating final-year South African medical students' perceptions, the white coat was associated with traditional symbolic values (e.g., trust) and had practical uses (e.g., identification). The coat was generally perceived to evoke positive emotions in patients, but some recognized that it may cause anxiety or mistrust. Donning a white coat generally implied a responsibility to the profession. For a few, without the coat, patients would not cooperate, resulting in some perceiving no need to be distinguished from qualified practitioners. There was thus some evidence of entitled (vs. earned) respect. In the light of the underresourced health care setting in which these students learn clinical medicine, we recommend that students be able to recognize the potential for unprofessional or unethical behavior. Students should also be able to identify role models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-402
Number of pages16
JournalEthics and Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes


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