Today, medical students at more than 70 medical schools held nationwide “white coat die-ins” to protest the lack of indictments for police killings in Ferguson, Mo., and New York, and to spotlight racial bias as a public health issue.

The Physicians for a National Health Program press release says that it is an important time for medical institutions to respond to the violence and race-related trauma that affect physicians’ communities and the patients they serve.

“We feel it is essential to begin a conversation about our role in addressing the explicit and implicit discrimination and racism in our communities and reflect on the systemic biases embedded in our medical education curricula, clinical learning environments, and administrative decision-making,” writes Mark Almberg, communications director, PNHP. “We believe these discussions are needed at academic medical centers nationwide.”

White Coat as a Political Symbol

Those opposing the idea feel that medical students are using their white coats specifically to tout their opinions so they will be heard and respected—and that medicine isn’t meant to provide social capital to use for someone’s own political agenda.

Proponents feel that physicians and medical students are in an ideal position for activism—and that institutionalized racism is a reality that also occurs in medicine. Wearing a white coat says they, as a future professional, will represent and support the needs of their community.

Where do you stand (or lie down)?