10 White Coat Essentials

  1. Stethoscope: Never leave home without it! As most services require a heart, lung and abdomen exam on every patient, carrying a stethoscope is critical to your physical exam.  I purchased a charm from CharMED to easily identify my stethoscope, but other people use tape or a patient ID bracelet to mark it. Side note, I have a Littman Classic III stethoscope and I LOVE it. The sound quality is crystal clear. For all my cardiology buffs out there, you may want to consider purchasing the Littman Master Cardiology stethoscope. It has a tunable diaphragm which allows you to hear different frequencies based on how hard you press down. The sound quality of a Master Cardiology stethoscope is incredible, but unless you are always on the look out for murmurs, it probably is not worth the additional cost.
  2. Maxwell Quick Medical Referencethis is the only book that I always carry in my white coat. The book is small (14 x 9 cm) so it will fit in any shirt pocket. It’s color coded by topic andincludes the following info:
    1. Common ECG Rhythms
    2. BLS & ACLS Overview
    3. Canadian Neurologic Scale
    4. NIH Stroke Scale
    5. Normal Lab Values
    6. Serum Drug Levels
    7. Helpful Equations
    8. Order & Note Outlines
    9. APGAR  Scoring
    10. Developmental Milestones
    11. Immunization Schedule
    12. Ruler (super helpful for measuring lesions, landmarks on X-rays, etc.)
    13. Snellen Eye Chart
  3. Pens: Always carry several pens on you.  Don’t carry anything too nice because you are guaranteed to lose them or have to loan them out. Most hospitals require black ink on their charts, orders, and prescriptions. (Don’t make the mistake I did and purchase purple ink pens. I had lost all of my pens and the purple pen was the only one I had left. In a pinch I used it to write my progress notes and my attending made me rewrite every. single. note.) 
  4. Notebook/Scrap Paper: I have found that a spiral bound index card book works the best for me. I purchase a multicolor neon notebook from Target, and will divide up my patients based on color section in the notebook. (ICU in green, Transitional Care in yellow, Outpatient Follow-Ups in pink, etc.)  Scrap paper works just fine too, but if you are following a patient for several days sometimes it is hard to keep track of lab values and notes in order. I did use the Perfect H&P Notebook while I was on my IM service, which was great for new admits but not so great if you were following patients for several days.
  5. Kindle: I have to admit, I never once considered purchasing a kindle. So when Santa bought me a Kindle this past Christmas I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Well its safe to say I am an utter Kindle convert! I have been able to purchase Kindle versions of ALL of my reference books that I used to carry in my weight coat (goodbye sore shoulders and stuffed pockets). It is so lightweight and the battery lasts for several days even with frequent use. You can highlight passages and bookmark pages in text, and flip between several books effortlessly. I also have downloaded the Kindle for PC app on my computer so I am able to take notes on my highlights at night after I get home from the hospital. Bonus you can access magazines and newspapers so if you are looking for a mental break and some light reading between patients it is right there at your fingertips. Some most haves include Pocket Medicine, the Case Files series,
  6. Glasses: I am blind as a bat without my prescription lenses, but I usually wear contacts most days. It wasn’t until I had to go into an emergent leg amputation and the bone saw came out and I had *zero* eye protection that I realized it was a poor decision to not wear my glasses that day. As I prefer wearing contacts over glasses, I didn’t want to carry my contact case, solution, and my glasses case in my white coat on the off chance I may need to cover my eyes. Several of my classmates carry safety goggles, but I always thought they looked kind of goofy especially if you are wearing them for a procedure for which your patient is awake for (central line placement, removal of an NG etc.) I stumbled across “fashion” eyeglasses on Amazon and decided to order a pair. I am shocked at how high quality these lenses are. Since they only cost me $7 I through the pair in my white coat pocket and don’t have to worry about scratching the lenses or crushing them by accident.
  7. Pen Lightthis is THE BEST pen light I have used. After trying to check a pupil reflex with my very weak, blue tinged penlight that came in a set of 5 for $8, my attending advised I purchase the penlight he uses.  The light is super bright and it is extremely durable. What I like best about the light is the button is on the end of the penlight, unlike many other designs which can be turned on by squeezing the clip against the body of the penlight resulting in drained batteries if you aren’t careful.
  8. Snacks: Okay so if you are as obsessed with food as I am, you know how important snacks are to surving the day. Snacking in medical school has taken a whole new meaning. Often you get called in early or have to work through lunch or dinner (…or both!), so carrying snacks are necessary to fuel you through your shift. I absolutely love Lorissa’s Kitchen Beef Jerky (80 calories and 11g of protein) or Kind Bars (Caramel Almond & Sea Salt is my favorite! 200 calories, 6g of protein and only 5g of sugar)
  9. Various Medical Supplies: Truthfully, I have a hodge-podge of Sterile Glove, Gauze, Alcohol Swabs, & Tape in my pocket that I have just collected over the past several months. What you need varies month to month and it helps if you have your most frequently used supplies on hand at all times.  If you want to be a real gunner, have a pair of your attending or resident’s size sterile gloves in your pocket just for good measure.
  10. Tiger Balm: Medicine isn’t for the faint-of-heart and it certainly isn’t for the squeamish. The main reason why I carry a tub of Tiger Balm around is to fend off all the gross smells you encounter on the wards. During my surgery clerkship, every Wednesday was spent in the wound clinic… there’s nothing quite like the smell of necrotic skin to start your day.  Most people don’t realize how much of medicine is smelly. Everything in medicine smells, whether it is blood from a massive trauma, an incontinent patient who has soiled himself, burning flesh while using cautery in the operating room, or the worst of all… a C. diff patient.  While there are many options for masking smells ( Carmex, oil of wintergreen, benzoin,  Bengay, Vicks Vapor Rub), Tiger Balm is my favorite because I can also use it to  rub on my neck and shoulders if I get a tension headache from wearing a heavy white coat or from staring at a computer screen all day.



Of course this is not a complete list, just the bare necessities to survive a rotation. Depending on the specialty you may need to carry more (Tape measure and Pregnancy wheel for OBGYN, reflex hammer and tuning fork for Neurology, suture/staple removal kits while on Surgery etc.). It always surprises me what my classmates manage to store in their coats and I’m constantly getting new ideas of items I should be carrying around with me. I’d love to hear what you absolutely must have in your pocket 🙂


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