Doctors wear white coats for both function and symbolism. The coats provide protection from bodily fluids and have large pockets to hold necessary items. The white color symbolizes purity and hope.
The tradition of wearing white coats began in the late 1800s when the benefits of sanitation became accepted and medical schools became more structured and meticulous. Before that, most doctors wore black. Many U.S. medical schools have white coat ceremonies where short white coats are presented to students. This ceremony first began at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993.
The tradition of wearing white coats is lessening; as of July 2012, only one in eight doctors wore them. In surveys, doctors say the coat is hot and expensive to launder. Some claim the coat creates a power differential between doctor and patient, while others believe it could potentially harbor bacteria. In 2009, the American Medical Association found there was no evidence to support the belief that the coats harbor bacteria.