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White Coat Hype: Branding Physicians With Professional Attire

Mary Catherine Beach, MD, MPH; April Fitzgerald, MD; Somnath Saha, MD, MPH
JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(6):467-468. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.3766.
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Within the larger body of literature focused on professionalism among physicians lie a small but growing number of studies and opinion pieces addressing the particular issue of how physicians ought to dress.16 The study by Au and colleagues7 in this issue of the journal builds on this literature by focusing on the attire of physicians, specifically in intensive care units (ICUs), where the authors remind us that the acuity of the environment may make for a wider range of clothes worn and perhaps accepted. To assess patient and family preferences in this setting, Au and colleagues7 recruited family members of ICU patients to complete a questionnaire rating the importance of different aspects of physician appearance and then asked them to select the best physician from a panel of 4 photographs. These photographs depicted clothing that varied in formality (with scrubs or jeans being less formal and a white coat or business suit being more formal) and specificity to the health professions (with scrubs or white coats being specific and jeans or business attire being not specific). The study results were clear. When selecting among photographs, the specificity to the health professions was more important to family members of ICU patients than its formality.

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