A lab coat should fit properly and be comfortable, this means it should not be too tight, that it restricts your movement or too small that it leaves parts of your skin exposed to germs and hazardous chemicals. A lab coat is especially important and although some see it as a fashion statement, the main purpose is for your protection, comfort, and identification. During my second year of medical school, I started to model for an agency, and I learnt a thing or two about fashion and design. Today I will share with you some tips I learnt from the fashion industry and my designer friends, while I take you through the most important aspects of choosing the right lab coat, with a perfect fit.
What factors to consider in choosing the right lab coat?
In choosing the correct lab coat, you must consider a few things, such as your style, your taste, your shoulder width (broad vs narrow), your body built (muscular vs lean vs fluffy), your arms, how tall or short you are, the number of pockets that you may need, your patient care role (physician coat vs registered nurse’s coat vs physician assistant’s coat vs medical student’s coat) and finally the material that makes your coat. In addition, choosing the perfect lab coat requires knowing your measurements and the size description chart used by the vendor from whom you are purchasing your clothing.
Let’s dive into each of these below.
Lab Coat Style
Style refers to your way of expressing yourself, it is an attribute that has developed over the years. The style of your lab coat should reflect you as a person. Lab coats come in various styles-from old English wraps to Modern button downs with princess seams, back belts, Velcro and even clip Ons. They come as short coats that rest on the hips and have a blazer (jacket) look, these are popular with medical students in the USA. Then at graduation, medical students normally upgrade to longer Physician coats, these are coats that touch the knees. This represents a level of seniority in the US medical training system, with more senior doctors wearing longer coats. With regards to measurement, for a long lab coat the average length is about forty inches while the shorter coats average about thirty inches.
If you have a swag, then don’t be afraid to show it and let the world know it. Call up your tailor or seamstress and try that custom tailored lab coat with your unique designs. If you are unsure of what your exact style is, then there are multiple online tools that can assist you in figuring this out.
Your Personal Taste
Remember it is your body that the lab coat needs to be on, therefore a commonly used philosophy is ‘ my body, my rule, my taste’. Your personal taste refers to knowing what you look good in and wearing that as a fashion trend, it is something that is inside of you. Some people prefer a tight fit, while others prefer a loose fit. Despite this, remember that safety comes first.
Your Shoulder Width
In choosing the perfect lab coat size, one important aspect is shoulder width– this refers to the seams of the lab coat that rest on your shoulder. It should extend the full length and width of your shoulders bilaterally. You need to consider if your shoulders are broad or narrow and if you will be wearing this coat during summer or winter. For instance, during summer, you will be wearing loose thin clothing, while during winter you will be wearing multiple layers of clothing, and this can make the shoulder seams of your lab coat very tight and uncomfortable.
Your Body Built or Structure
In choosing the best lab coat, you must remember your body structure. Are you tall and slender, short, and stout or curvy, muscular, or fluffy? You do not want a coat that is too tight and restricts your movement during a physical exam or a ‘Code Blue’. Whatever your body structure, you can always find the right coat. Consider visiting Amazon or your nearby store or better yet get a custom-tailored coat that fits you well.
Your Arm Size
Your arm size should be accurately measured before you purchase that new lab coat. If the coat is too tight around the arm, this can be a major issue during removal of the coat. This may become a nuisance if you need to change into scrubs or ‘don and duff’ during interactions with patients who have a viral illness or who are on isolation or respiratory precautions, for example Covid-19 Pneumonia, Clostridium Difficile infections etc. Your lab coat should fit well enough so that you can get into and out of it quickly during emergency situations.
For a great lab coat fit, you also need to consider your height- how tall or short are you?
For Shorter individuals (meaning men under 5 feet 8 inches and women under 5 feet 4 inches), you should aim for a lab coat that is between 28 to 35 inches long. This will allow your coat to rest at mid-thigh level. However, if you are on the taller end of the spectrum then you will need a coat over 40 inches long.
The number of pockets
The number of pockets that you may need for storage varies. For me I find that as a Physician I need at least two strong pockets to carry my stethoscope, reflex hammer, ACLS and USMLE cards. I cannot imagine a lab coat without pockets. You should consider this factor before deciding on your special coat.
Most lab coats that are sold on the internet have a product description with measurements. These are all random numbers and frankly useless unless you know your body measurements.
How to get your correct measurements?
You have two options: 1) you can do it yourself or 2) you can ask someone to take it for you, such as a tailor or seamstress, your personal trainer or even a family member or friend. All you will need is a tape measure or a piece of string or thread.
To take your measurements, you need to wrap the measuring tape around your body tightly, ideally without any clothing in-between. Take accurate measurements of your chest, back, arm, shoulder, and waist since these are all essential in getting an ideal fit for your lab coat. These measurements should be rounded off to the nearest inch.
Lab Coat Material
The material that your lab coat is made of is especially important. Since your coat functions as a barrier to germs and protects against chemical spills, blood, sputum, feces, and urine.
What is the best material for a Lab coat?
According to multiple surveys and online sources, the best material for a lab coat is cotton or a mixture of cotton and polyester. A cotton lab coat is best for doctors and nurses, since the material is light weight and breathable. In addition, cotton is readily available, absorbent and not expensive. For people outside of the healthcare field you may benefit from a lab coat made of other materials such as polyester, nylon, Nomex or rayon. That offers additional protection against chemical spills, acids, and alkali substances.
Your Patient Care Role
Finally, the last factor to consider in choosing the right lab coat is your patient care role. Will you need a physician coat or a registered nurse’s coat or a physician assistant’s coat or a medical student who usually wears a shorter lab coat! Whatever lab coat you choose, remember that it is a symbol of loyalty and respect, and the main function is for your comfort and protection. With these in mind let your creativity and style flow through what you wear.
I hope this article was helpful. And allowed you to realize that not all white coats are created equal. Let us know if you found that special coat and better yet if you will be wearing your lab coat to your USMLE boards.