Fit for women only
Lab coat designed for female doctors can help reduce stress.
PITTSBURGH - For years, Leslie Latterman and her fellow female medical residents at Allegheny General Hospital would have the same conversations about the boxy, clunky white coats they wore in the hospital. They didn't fit right, the big, deep pockets were always a mess, there was no place for personal items, and so on.
They would dream about ways to make the coats better, something fashionable and functional for the growing number of female doctors.
One day, Latterman decided she was going to make it happen.
"She said, 'You know, I'm actually going to do this,' " recalled Ariella Reinherz, who was one of those residents and who is now a pulmonologist at UPMC Shadyside Hospital.
After six years of working on it, Latterman, who lives in the Point Breeze section of Pittsburgh, has made it happen.
In the last few weeks, she has sold more than three dozen coats, mainly by word of mouth. The coats, sold under the brand Designs by Dr. Leslie (designerlabcoats.com), are available on the Web for $275 - though the current introductory price is $199.99.
"Everyone has seen the standard white coat," she said. "It's 100 years old, it's made for men, it doesn't work for women. When you're having a stressful day or you're working nights, you want a coat that works with you, not against you."
Latterman, an osteopath who has practiced medicine for 24 years, said that by the end of a long shift, her neck and back often ached because all the weight in a standard white coat was carried in the front pockets. She said women often have to load up the coat with more stuff than male doctors need: A stethoscope might stay put on the broader shoulders of a male doctor, for example, but a female doctor might carry the device in her coat rather than risk having it fall off her shoulders onto the floor.
Men can also put wallets or phones in their pants pockets, but women regularly wear clothes with smaller - or no - pockets.
And there's the issue of women's personal items, which can get lost in the large pockets of a man's lab coat.
"I saw someone go to pull out her reflex hammer, and, don't you know, a tampon went flying onto the patient," Latterman said. "It was the most embarrassing thing - she's an excellent doctor, but what do you do?"
Latterman designed her coat with epaulets that can hold a stethoscope. A zippered wallet on a gold chain holds money and credit cards, and designated small pockets and hooks can contain wedding and engagement rings, reading glasses, or cellphones.
"If you do a spinal tap or a central line, you can just hook your rings on and zipper up the pocket," Latterman said. "Women always say they can't wear their rings - now they won't lose them."
Latterman went to an expert at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to develop the fabric for the coats, which is enzyme-washed with one-way stretch. Women can order pink or tan under the collar and have 10 choices of embroidery color. The coats are made in Los Angeles by UDesign4U.
Kindra Browning worked with Latterman in the 1990s and remembers her talking about the coats even then. When Browning found out they were finally available, she ordered one.
"Anything that Leslie sets her mind to will happen, and it's been a lot of fun to watch this come to fruition and to hear about all of her adventures," said Browning, a physician at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio. "She probably spent six months trying to figure out if she wanted pink pearlized buttons or blue."
When Browning wears the coat in the hospital, she said, it draws positive attention from both male and female doctors. She appreciates the little details: Her heel doesn't catch on the hem because it's double-hemmed, and an inner pocket prevents pens from leaking through.
Medical school enrollment now averages 48 percent female, according to an October report from the American Association of Medical Colleges.
"We finally hit the tipping point," Browning said, "where women's issues are heard."