Use and Abuse of the Lab Coat / Fernando Damaso

During my childhood, adolescence, youth and young adulthood, doctors wore their lab coats only when they were working in hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities, and only for hygienic reasons. They were intended to help prevent the spread of germs between doctor and patient. On the street and in public places they dressed like anyone else of their social class. This seemed to be the case in the rest of the world as well, judging from films and television programs which portrayed medical personnel. 

In my country, however, lab coats seem to have become a kind of second skin, an official uniform for doctors, who never take them off. They wear them when walking from place to place and on buses, in commercial establishments and in the management offices of state enterprises and institutions. They were the damn things in preparation for travel to countries where they provide cheap labor, in assembly rooms where they receive their political and professional “orientation,” and even as they get on and off the planes taking them to their final destinations.

Undoubtedly, this use and abuse of the lab coat is not a coincidence but rather a response to political objectives. It serves as a propaganda tool, intended for both domestic and international audiences, which is used to promote one of the most important “achievements” of the regime.

The lab coat, which is worn at all hours of the day, seems to define the personality of our doctors. In Cuban TV news reports they are always seen wearing them, even when travelling on foot through fields and mountains, or on boats on rivers and lakes. They wear them in groups, “moving towards the bright future” together, as in old Soviet-bloc propaganda posters illustrating “the path towards communism.”

It would be desirable if lab coats were once again used for the purposes they were originally intended, which was for the well-being of doctors and their patients. Moreover, they would undoubtedly last much longer.

30 March 2014