In 2021, Mount Union’s physical therapy program began to describe our white coat ceremony as "PT’s Coat of Many Colors." This came about when we take into consideration the history of the physical therapy profession combined with our own individual histories and backgrounds. PT is now around 100 years old as a profession and was not created by the medical teams of its day. We were not part of the then existing white coated model of health care delivery. Though, that white coat model without us proved meritorious, a symbol of professionalism, caring, and trustworthiness. But we were not officially in the lineup of the medical model who first donned the white coat. When we wore them, we were borrowing a look, assuming a medical status.
Physical Therapy White Coat Ceremony
The physical therapy profession began around needs, not invitations. The needs to which we responded were not those that the traditional medical field addressed and were approached in a manner different than the traditional medical model. Physical therapists began utilizing new methods of treatment, training, and care to which they found these ailments would respond. Our earliest practitioners of physical therapy would work with their hands, hot packs, and other restorative means to do all they could moment by moment, day by day.
The first patients were those of returning soldiers with missing limbs or eyes, victims of a devastating Polio epidemic, and many victims of paralysis and irretractable pain. All needed a path forward, something to live for and a body that could be rebuilt. We offered comfort, strength, assistive devices, and real hopes. Physical therapy opened doors to those whose life choices depended on rehabilitation.
In time, we did inherit a white coat, but our field has never been overly committed to keeping the white coat spotless. That’s not out of disrespect, but because we are hands-on professionals. Our coats get dirty and are graced with real sweat with tear-stained shoulders. Little by little, we as PT's create a more significant inner fabric of soul, a tapestry of many people’s stories and hopes. The white coat symbolism is important and real, so is the process physical therapists embrace, the real physical work of changing people’s lives and being changed in the process.
As physical therapists celebrate the white coat and its symbolism, we challenge our students to let their coats, whether external or internal, grow in its intangible character, representing the best they can be as professionals and compassion and competency driven men and women. A “PT's Coat of Many Colors” stands for something bigger than one person, and it affords our patients a symbol of our commitment to meeting them one by one by one.