Pearls: Dress for Success

September 1, 2006

Another favorite from our popular weekly e-mail newsletter. This month: Why you need a dress code.


Your staff’s appearance makes an important first impression on your practice’s patients. As you begin hiring employees from younger generations, you may find that their dress is not what you expect it to be in your office. To help your staff project a professional image, keep these points in mind:

  • Choose your colors. Think about selecting a series of colors that reflect the image you’d like your practice to convey. A pediatric practice may opt for bright, bold primary colors, while a practice serving primarily adults may choose a palette of soft, coordinating colors. Nontraditional colors like warm browns and soft pinks can make striking combinations. To encourage staff buy-in, choose several color combinations and ask your employees to vote for their favorites.

  • Maintain a consistent image. Ask your staff to dress in your practice’s chosen colors. To support participation, order two or three clothing articles in your practice colors for each employee. Scarves could coordinate with your employees’ personal clothes, scrubs, and/or shirts. Shirts monogrammed with your practice’s name or logo add a personalized touch. Alternatively, you could give your employees an annual wardrobe allowance and suggest a variety of clothing in your practice colors from which to choose.

  • Develop a dress code. Even if projecting a consistent image is not important to you, you should still draw up a policy on employee appearance. Of course you want to encourage suitable dress for your clinical environment, which may include rules such as no open-toed shoes. But beyond that, simply telling your staff to dress “appropriately” is no longer enough. The definition of “appropriate” has changed over time.

  • Consider that belly button-revealing scrub tops and low-rise scrub pants are now available to medical staff. Spell out what you specifically find to be inappropriate attire in a written policy. Also offer guidelines regarding more sensitive topics, such as proper hygiene and wearing overpowering perfumes.

  • Address your tolerance for body art. Many young adults have tattoos and piercings. If you don’t want to see them - or expose them to your patients - make your policy clear on the subject. Be up-front about your practice’s dress code during the hiring process to avoid any misunderstandings.

Proper dress has historically been treated as an unspoken set of rules within medical practices. Establish some guidelines about what you do and do not consider appropriate attire, and you will avoid uncomfortable confrontations before they occur. If you don’t, a too-short miniskirt, a heavy nose ring, or hair that is dyed blue overnight can result in a nasty wake-up call.

Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, CPC, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in practice management. Elizabeth is a fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives and a certified professional coder. She can be reached at elizabeth@elizabethwoodcock.com or via editor@physicianspractice.com. Learn more about Elizabeth at www.elizabethwoodcock.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Physicians Practice.