Conjure an image of a doctor and automatically many will think of a person in a white lab coat.

While true throughout many physician offices and hospitals, you will find a standout among the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria faculty. Here, the faculty instead don a light-blue clinical coat.

Patrick Elwood MD

Why the Blue Coat?

For that answer, Pathways turned to Dr. Patrick Elwood, renowned Peoria neurosurgeon and the first curricular chair of the College of Medicine in Peoria. Among the founding faculty, he participated in the design and development of the College of Medicine’s undergraduate medical curriculum now nearly 50 years ago, including some of its early identifiers that persist today.

“When the medical school first started we had a relatively small faculty,” Dr. Elwood recalled recently from his office at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center. “They were tremendously enthusiastic. It was unbelievable, like a kid with a new toy.”

The first task for the faculty was to create the second-year curriculum. The problem, however, was that many of faculty involved with the planning had not been a medical student in many years, he said. “No one knew what they (the medical students) knew. It was kind of humorous some of the struggles we had,” Elwood continued.

Not long after medical students started arriving at the hospitals for their clerkships, faculty ran into another issue.

“Basically, we had these two fairly large hospitals with a lot of staff doctors but there was no identification of doctors as faculty,” Elwood recalled.

At the time, Dr. Elwood and some of his colleagues in neurology and neurological surgery wore blue coats. Other colleagues in the Department of Pediatrics wore tan clinical coats.

“Somehow we got to talking about how we would identify faculty in the College of Medicine so when we were walking around the hospital we could tell who was faculty. We had a staff meeting to decide if we should wear a blue coat or a tan coat,” Elwood recalled. “None of us wanted white coats because we didn’t want to upset the children – because of the white coat syndrome – there was a lot of thinking that white coats frightened the children and maybe even bothered adults.”

Elwood continued, “the faculty took a vote and blue won. I think most supported the blue simply because they didn’t like the tan – it looked rather pedestrian – so we ended up with these blue coats, simply by chance.”

But the story doesn’t end there quite yet.

About that same time, Elwood said the faculty talked about creating a patch for their coat sleeve. Dr. John Henderson and his wife, Beverly, put some pencil to paper and sketched the design that continues today – with an uppercase “U” and “I” intersecting.

Nearly 50 years later, both the blue coat and the patch has remained largely intact.

“I personally feel like it’s important – organizational identification,” says Elwood. “It (The blue clinical coats and patch) stands for the university’s role in medical education and signifying the presence of the medical school within the hospitals and clinics.”

In fact, Dr. Elwood would like to see more of the faculty and residents donning the faculty attire.

“I think it’s really important the College of Medicine has a vigorous presence in the hospitals and you just can’t assume that. One of the advantages of the coat and the patch is that people are reminded we are the University of Illinois.”

This article is part of the Summer 2018 edition of Pathways. Read the full issue.