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Still wearing the short white coat

Posted by Ishani Ganguli  September 2, 2011 11:35 AM

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“Short white coat” is a handy and well-recognized metonym for the medical student -- the doctor-in-training still finding his or her way in the bewildering world of clinical medicine. But on the floors of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), you see just one white-haired attending doctor with his pant pleats showing and the association falls apart.

Of course, there’s a good explanation here. At MGH, where I am a first-year resident, students and internal medicine doctors at all levels of experience wear short white coats to symbolize their commitment to lifelong learning.

Two months into residency, I’ve had some time to think about this wardrobe choice. Would a longer coat better complement my outfits and provide more of that oh-so-coveted pocket room? Absolutely. But though I have an occasional pang of long coat envy, I’ve come to appreciate the sentiment behind the uniform hemming.

In health care, we are learning every day, not only about the latest causes and treatments for disease but also about how to put that knowledge into practice and how to take care of patients more effectively. At the same time, we are learning how little we know about these areas. And we are finding that we don’t have to be in a laboratory to learn from our mistakes and test new ways to deliver good care.

At a critical juncture in American medicine, it seems more important than ever to recognize all of our roles as humble students of health and health care.

It is in this spirit that I decided to hold on to the blog title that I have used at The Globe since my first year in medical school. My goal in this blog is to reflect on learning to be a doctor as a window into our efforts to deliver quality care. I’ll bring you into the world of residency training and draw on my experiences to try to understand what we can do better.

Thanks for reading! I welcome your comments, either on the site or via e-mail (you can reach me at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Ishani Ganguli, MD, is a journalist and a second-year resident physician in internal medicine/primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital. She studied biochemistry and Spanish at Harvard College and received her More »

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