The Myth of the White Coat Syndrome

Source: Matsui D, et al. Physician's attire as perceived by young children and their parents: The myth of the white coat syndrome. Pediatr Emerg Care 1998;14:198-201.

Matsui and associates investigated the common belief that children have an aversion to medical personnel who wear white coats. One hundred children, 4-8 years of age, were recruited in the outpatient facilities of their regional pediatric referral center. Two pairs of photographs that showed the same man with and without a medical white coat and the same woman, with and without a white coat were shown to each child and their parents. Both children and parents were then asked which one of each pair they would prefer to have as their own or their child's doctor. The parents were then asked to fill out a questionnaire rating their opinions about the appropriateness of various aspects of the appearance of the doctors in the photographs.

The children identified the person in the white coat as their choice for a doctor 69% of the time. The parents also selected the individual in the white coat over the non-white coated individual 66% of the time.

On the parent's questionnaire, the parents chose a tag with the doctor's name as the most appropriate item of dress. This was closely followed by a white coat. A well-groomed mustache and beard were rated favorably. Open toed sandals, clogs, and shorts were rated negatively. Parent's opinions were neutral with respect to hospital "scrubs," blouse and skirt vs. a dress and shirt and tie. Matsui et al conclude that physicians may, if they wish, wear a white coat without fearing that they may negatively affect their interactions with children 4-8 years old. The importance to parents of the physician wearing a name tag is also confirmed.-hap