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Why We Wear Those Patient ‘Gowns’

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Since a recent hip operation required me to spend most of the time in one

of those frilly “patient gowns,” I decided to research why we sullenly endure this

hoary habit.

I learned that while physicians have been prying and poking people since

they discovered the first cadaver, it’s only been since 1923 that they started

making them wear those little gowns. It was only then that someone with a

business degree discovered that doctors were dumb about business. He dubbed

himself a practice management consultant and said he could boost both prestige

and profit margins if the doctor would just pay him $100 an hour.

Soon afterward, the first gown was invented. It happened as follows:

Consultant: Doctor, what’s the main thing you want to convey to your


Doctor: I want to get back at them for all the times they were tanning

themselves at the beach while I was interning 90 hours a week in the basement of

some hospital and looking paler than the cadavers I was working on.

Consultant: There, there. Of course, you do. I’ve already suggested one way

to retaliate, which is the mandatory 45-minute wait in the waiting room, which

we’re going to rename the Reception Room in order to heighten the irony. No,

you need something more. Once they enter that door to the inner corridor, they’ll

be met by whichever of your nurses looks most like a prison matron. She’ll hand

them a dinky frock we’ve designed and sternly announce that they have to into

this cubicle and take off all their clothes. And we’ll call it a “gown” just to make

the men feel like fairies.

Doctor: Where are they supposed to put their clothes and valuables?

Shouldn’t we install lockers with hooks and hangers?

Consultant: My gracious, no! All you want to offer is little stack of shelves

where they have to pile their clothes on top of each other. It helps create the


Doc: What do you men atmosphere?

Consultant: The feeling of vulnerability. It’s a lot like checking into prison.

The guards know you’re going to be there a very long time, so what’s the point of

hanging your pants up so they won’t get wrinkles?

Doc: Why is this dinky thing so thin? Looks like you could even see through


Consultant: Like I said: vulnerability!

Doc: These little strings hanging out…do you tie them in front or back?

Consultant: Well, you don’t tell them anything, but in back of course! That

way they can’t see what they’re doing.

Doc: Looks like there isn’t even enough material to wrap around the

average person.

Consultant: (after rolling eyes and muttering to himself): Well, of course

there isn’t. Remember our objective here. The reason is that now they’re going to

open that dressing room door and parade around in front of everyone else, not

knowing if their underwear has a hole in it or whether their rear ends are hanging


Doc: Okay. Is that it for the gowns?

Consultant: Not quite. By this time the people really want to see the doctor.

But your office assistant – the one who looks like the prison matron – will direct

them to a row of hardback chairs in the corridor. I prefer cold plastic like an

airport waiting room. There they will spend another 15 minutes squirming in their

gowns with pained expressions and trying not to peek at the other ones. Finally, I

want to be sure your staff will all be wearing long-sleeved white coats.

Doc: Why is that?

Consultant: Because I wouldn’t want you to become uncomfortable.

Starting Monday, we’re going for the coup de grace. I want your office

temperature set at 50 degrees. When those patients finally get up on your exam

table, it’ll remind you of those old days as an intern and why we have this new


Doc: What do you mean?

Consultant: Cadavers, my good man. It’ll be just like working on cadavers


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