Monday, June 15, 2009

Anatomy of a White Coat

Medical students are easy to spot in hospitals, for three main reasons:

1. They wear short (butt-length) white coats.
2. They are often seen following people with long white coats (the doctors), many times with a practiced, forced smile of pleasant expectation habitually on their faces.
3. Their pockets are loaded full of more stuff than the saddlebags on a pack mule.

see the smile? she will get a better grade than her bored classmate in the back.

The med student white coat, you see, is not to be confused with the attending physician white coat. Attendings are the head honchos of any medical team, so they are far too important to risk looking like pack mules. Their pockets are generally empty save for a shiny pen advertising Celexa or Zetia, the list of their patients, an iPhone or some equally fancy device, and-- if they're really on top of things-- perhaps a journal article they want their residents or students to read.

look how glamorous!

So here shall be revealed what the lowliest person on the medical team (the third-year medical student) is carrying around. Or at least, what I carry around, but I'd guess it's pretty typical.

Breast pocket:

1. Multiple pens, including one favored clicky or gel (or both!) pen, which I'll use until it runs out of ink... and at least one backup, a cheapy or found-on-the-floor pen. The backup is the one that, if a doctor asks, "Anyone have an extra pen?" I'll offer up. This way I appear helpful and avoid losing my favorite pen when the doctor then absentmindedly pockets it.

2. Penlight, for shining in patients' eyes and mouths.

3. Maxwell's Quick Medical Reference, much beloved by all medical personnel.

4. Smell-good lip balm... because I am, after all, a girl.

5. Alcohol pads for cleaning my stethoscope-- when I remember. Here's a comforting thought: your doctor's stethoscope may be the germiest thing in the whole hospital.

run away! run far far away!

6. Extra AAA batteries, because my cheap, school-distributed pager eats through them like you wouldn't believe.

7. Cell phone, for surreptitious text-messaging of the husband when I get bored on rounds.

note: my phone is not this cool

Left Outer Pocket:

1. My "cheat sheets"-- laminated cards outlining the basics of taking a history, listening for heart murmurs, reading EKGs, and deciding which antibiotics get used when.

2. Whatever snack or drink bottle I'm carrying around at the moment to quiet my grumbling stomach or keep myself from passing out from dehydration.

Left Inner Pocket:

1. Change purse (a cute one I got here) for storing my driver's license, debit card, and various cash & change... since neither the cafeteria nor the vending machines take plastic.

Right Outer Pocket:

1. Cheap, school-distributed pager mentioned above.

2. Handy-dandy little book of medications listing various info about the 1,000 most commonly used drugs-- brand & generic name, how it works, what it's used for, dosing, side effects, etc.

3. Highlighter(s), in constant rotation because they run low on ink so darn fast.

Right Inner Pocket:

1. Keys. (Self-explanatory.)

2. More laminated cheat sheets, these outlining differences in vital signs, lab values, etc. between adults & children. Most students probably don't still carry these around (they handed them out during our pediatrics rotation), but I do, because I want to go into peds and all that. Kids are my peeps, man. *insert fake gang sign, or something*

yeah, like this. you go, little dude.

3. Calendar/planner, which I mostly use, not so much for scheduling, as for (shh!) writing down the codes to all the keypad-locked doors in the hospital that I've learned so far. Don't go stealing my secret code book, now, or I will hunt you down!


1. Stethoscope slung around neck, unwisely without any kind of tag to identify it as mine if I misplace it (which has happened a couple times, but so far it's always been where I left it).

dr. miller has more foresight than I do

2. Some kind of study book, either carried around and used as a makeshift clipboard, or stuffed clumsily (if it's small enough) into a pocket.

3. Various other papers stuck wherever is handy-- patient lists, progress notes, hastily scribbled lab values, outlines of topics I've been told to read up on, etc.

4. ID badge clipped to lapel, identifying me as a MEDICAL STUDENT, complete with unflattering oily-faced photo. Oh, and the phrase "how may I help you?" in larger letters than my name... because if there's one thing med students learn during their third year? It's that really... we don't matter.


  1. HAHAAAH Loves it. My stethescope says "Dr. Qureshi," which seems to suggest either a) my cockiness b) my foreshadowing abilities. In actuality, my stethescope is a hand me down, which in restrospect, I just realized, is REALLY gross.