Clothes Make the Clinician

dressResearch published in this month’s British Medical Journal Open suggests patients have some definite ideas about how their doctors should dress. In a meta-analysis of 30 studies involving 11,533 adult patients in 14 countries, University of Michigan investigators found Europeans, Asians, and Americans over age 50 generally prefer to see their physicians in formal attire, while Americans in Gens X and Y are more open to a less dressy look. Scrubs are really considered okay only in the ED, ICUs, and surgical areas by many.

Respiratory therapists may not be doctors, but the study should serve as an eye-opener to anyone in the medical field because it shows that patients do indeed care how their health professionals look – and with hospital revenue now riding in part on patient satisfaction scores, it’s clear that impressing patients is the order of the day for anyone who wants to get ahead.

What constitutes appropriate attire in the RT department? Consider these suggestions –

  • Whether you wear scrubs or street clothes and a lab coat, make sure you come to work every day in attire that is clean, and pressed as well if necessary. If you get a stain on a set of scrubs or lab coat that won’t come out, toss them out and go shopping. Clean clothes not only make a better impression, they can help ensure your patients don’t pick up any infectious agents that may have lingered on your attire from previous patients.
  • In many hospitals these days different disciplines are assigned specific scrub colors. If that’s the case in your hospital, the choice of colors or patterns has been made for you. But if you can pick any scrubs you like, consider your audience: RTs working in a children’s hospital look great decked out in Mickey Mouse, but if you are caring for adult patients, conservative colors and patterns (indeed, you might want to forego patterns entirely) are best.
  • Inspiring confidence in your patients goes beyond the clothes you wear too. Make sure your hair is clean and combed and leave earrings and other body piercing accoutrements at home. Tattoos should be covered whenever possible. And don’t forget your footwear either – shoes should be clean and polished as well.

The University of Michigan researchers who looked at previous studies on attire in physicians concluded that patients whose physicians wear clothes the patients deem appropriate are more likely to trust them with their care. The same is no doubt true of other health care providers as well. First impressions matter, and if the first thing your patients see when you come into their rooms is a person who looks like he or she took great care with his or her appearance, you’ll be building the trust you need to provide the best patient care possible before you even get the chance to say hello.