Chaplain In Lab Coat

This just in, which reminds PB that many of you are in the midst of that special harrowing experience we call C.P.E.! How is it going, troopers? Are you wearing out those Dansko clogs yet?

PeaceBang, I’m a staff chaplain and I recently began wearing a black lab coat with otherwise “business” dress. How do you feel about that? I was frustrated at the futility of pockets in women’s clothes. I didn’t want to do a white lab coat because one CPE center where I trained did that and folks always thought we were docs. The black does nicely.

I also have a navy lab coat and a “dressy” non-cuff-sleeve scrub jacket on order. We’ll have to see about those.

How do you feel about the lab coat plan?

PS. You are wonderful. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent worrying and planning and thinking about my wardrobe and you make things easier. Bless you and this ministry!

And also with you, sweetie.

Hmmm, okay. You’re the staff chaplain, which means that you’re ministering to docs and other people on staff, so that makes your role different than the hospital chaplain making rounds, right? So right away I feel less inclined than I usually would to ask, “Is a black lab coat an approachable enough garment for you to be wearing as a chaplain?”

I see the wisdom in wearing a lab coat when you’re ministering to other people in lab coats. There is something equalizing about it, and also perhaps counter-intuitively comforting, as in, “I am not a comfy motherly/fatherly type who is going to get all mushy and spiritual with you. I am a professional member of this care team just as you are, and it is my job to make sure you have emotional and spiritual care while you do your job.”

It may not be fair to generalize that medical professionals don’t respond to warm, mushy types in times of crisis as readily as the general population does, but until I hear a loud outcry of correction, I’m going to stick with that generalization as it’s based on my life experience.

I’m also making an analogy to a military chaplain, who wears the uniform of the military branch he or she serves. It’s a solidarity-identification thing: “I’m one of you, and I’m here for you.”

I think it’s a nice gesture and a wise choice. Rock on, Chappy.

7 Replies to “Chaplain In Lab Coat”

  1. Much depends on hospital tradition. At my CPE site, a big hospital in Chicago, all chaplains wore a white lab coat with a prominent “chaplain” patch on the sleeve. It sounds like there’s more latitude where you are, but I would want to know what the staff is accustomed to seeing. When I served as a monthly on-call volunteer chaplain in a smaller hospital I wore a clerical collar for patients to immediately identify me as clergy, and that seemed to work. However, since this will be your attire, day in and day out in your work, it would be much more of your professional image & identity, so you would have to be very comfortable wearing a collar! You seem attuned to people’s responses to you, and that will be another big factor in effectiveness. I’m glad that you have room to find what will work for you.

  2. Ask around before you get attached to the black lab coat– in some of the hospitals in my area the Unit Secretaries wear black lab coats astheir uniform…

  3. Every hospital is so different about this stuff….when I was a resident we all wore red lab coats. this was fine except that at a neighboring hospital the volunteers wore red lab coats, so that was once in a while confusing. Where I work now they strongly discourage lab coats for hygienic reasons. Here everyone wears monogrammed fleece jackets which I love (I have one with the hospital logo and pastoral care) or monogrammed golf shirts (I only wear these overnight but they are very handy for that purpose). One does have to be careful with color–in our hospital the unit coordinators wear purple, the volunteers wear bright blue, EMT’s tend to wear red. Nurses and RT’s wear scrubs of their own choosing, doctors and residents wear green or ceil blue, surgery staff wear the cool hats, etc. I’m still waiting for Almy to make clerical scrubs….

  4. in our place “staff chaplains” are full time chaplains in charge of a unit, as opposed to part time folk or residents

  5. In our hospital, staff chaplains see patients as much as residents, interns, or associates do, so that “approachable to pts” thing is still necessary.

  6. It is up to what your institution require you to wear as Chaplains. Do not confuse your co-workers who may wear different colors than you do. However wearing white coats as a Chaplain looks very professional whether people call you Doctor or not. For those who have earned their Doctorate in Ministry or PHD people can call you Doctor. However, in a hospital setting or other facilities its best to be called Chaplain so there will be no confusion.

  7. I notice that you say nothing about the patients and how their anxiety might be elevated by the appearance of another white coat at their bedside; a garment that is associated ONLY with medical doctors. You seem extremely concerned with how your peers perceive you, and with status. Try caring about the people in the beds.

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