The white coat as a metaphor for the clinician-patient relationship

I recently completed a family nurse practitioner program and earned my M.S. in Nursing. One of my best preceptors offered the following advice: "Make sure you get yourself a nice white coat with your name on it.”

Many health profession programs have a white coat ceremony for students upon successful completion. During these ceremonies the white coat signifies the responsibility new clinicians have to their patients and their profession.

As clinicians progress in their training, the length of the coat often increases, signifying the depth of their education and increased autonomy in providing patient care.

Where I live in North Carolina, cotton fields — the source of fibers used to create the white coat — still line the roads in some places. In the past, these cotton fields often reminded me of our nation's history of injustice. First harvested by African slaves, cotton was the crop that sparked the Civil War.

Since entering the nursing profession, however, the cotton fields have taken on a different meaning. An essential element in many medical interventions, cotton now signifies an optimistic future.

The many tiny woven strands of cotton and polyester that make up the white coat represent the countless hours I've spent studying, the struggles and successes along the journey I've embarked upon work in a profession committed to beneficence.

The white coat itself symbolizes the provider-patient relationship and it's importance in achieving and sustaining optimal health. It signifies the ethical responsibility I have for my patients, and my commitment to providing the best possible care during their most vulnerable moments.

Leigh Montejo, MSN, FNP-BC, provides health care to underserved populations at the Metropolitan Community Health Service's Agape Clinic in Washington, North Carolina.

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