One of my teachers, Dr. Abe Verghese recently released a quick video on what he keeps in his white coat pockets:
This got me thinking a bit about the topic. In my top pocket, I have a little pocket protector with pens and penlight in it. I’ve found that you need a lot of pens because you’ll lose them or the residents and attendings will walk off with them. The pocket protector is pretty nerdy, but my girlfriend got it for me, and I know that even a little bit of ink can leak out in the white coat and cause problems. The Maxwell quick reference also fits in the top pocket, which can be helpful for looking up things.
For the lower pockets, one nice thing if you are into technology is that the iPad mini seems to fit nicely in the white coat pocket. In theory, that can take the place of a whole host of other reference books that med students used to carry. However, some people still prefer printed material, and you may not be in areas where you can have internet access to things like UpToDate, or if you have eBooks, you don’t want to depend on having a full charge.
One useful pocket item that I have discovered is the WhiteCoat folding clipboard. This is available from a few different sources, but it’s really an incredibly useful folding clipboard that fits in your pocket. Although this may be the age of computerized medicine, there are always times when you want to write things down, and having a place to keep loose pages which you can add forms or sheets (such as printed EKG’s) is just incredibly useful. It looks a little funny, but I’ve found it to be incredibly useful.
What Dr. Verghese doesn’t mention in his video, when he takes out the stethoscope, is that one of his pet peeves is having students or residents wrap the stethoscope around the neck. In practice, I actually find that a lot more useful. It keeps it from getting all kinked up, but everyone has their own likes and dislikes.
He also doesn’t mention something that is incredibly useful for students, and that’s having a granola bar or energy type bar in your pocket. As a student, I try to never start a clinical shift without something like that in my pocket in case I have to go a long time without eating. You never know when you will need to scarf something down quickly. I also usually keep a little blister pack of sugar-free gum in my pocket. It’s not very professional to talk to your patients while you are chomping on gum, but if you want to make sure you don’t have bad breath (particularly if you do get something eat at some point), it’s a good way to freshen up while you are charting or looking something up. There is also some indication that chewing gum helps wake you up and pay attention, or at least it has that effect on me. It helps wake me up a bit and pay attention, and it helps remove the film you get on your teeth after a while, so you feel a little cleaner and more refreshed, even if you are exhausted and kind of grubby feeling.
Having an extra pair of gloves in your pocket can be helpful too, along with some of the little alcohol wipe packets to clean your stethoscope. Having some of the little packets tongue depressors can be useful, as Dr. Verghese noted in the video.
As noted, Dr. Verghese is partial to the Queen’s Square reflex hammer (named for the neurology hospital in Queen’s Square where it was invented, not because it is square or has anything to do with the queen). That is partly because of his training in the British system, and also because he received the hammer of one of his clinical mentors from the mentor’s widow, so it certainly has a special place in his heart. However, practically speaking I have found the Babinski hammer, which is similar but which has a metal, telescoping handle to be much more convenient. You have the benefit of the long lever arm, but also the advantage of being able to fold it up and put in your pocket.
Overall, those are some of the things I like to carry in my white coat pockets. I’d be interested in hearing in the comments from people who have other opinions.
PS I don’t have any financial disclosures related to any of the products I’ve mentioned, other than I have spent money buying them and found it to be money well spent.