Tuesday, July 10, 2012

White [coat] privilege

Today I learned that medical students are not actually the lowest rung on the totem pole.  Research assistants happen to fall below them.  I became acutely aware of patients not wanting to me around and of staff feeling similarly.  It's funny though- nothing has changed about who I am, how I interact with everyone, my attitude, and my attempts to be helpful.  The staff very much knows that I just completed my 3rd year of medical school.  This being very much an academic institution, they are very aware of what that means, and that it puts me at the education level of a sub-i.  All that has changed is that I'm not wearing my white coat and my badge now reads "research assistant". 

I can't help but ponder why this is.  Is it that they're protecting their own students' education first?  Is it that they don't yet know and trust me?  Or, is it that people are just afraid of and/or intimidated by the white coat, and that we take full advantage of the privilege and authoritative knowledge that comes with it?  If so, how do we best own & deconstruct this privilege?

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