What to Wear at Your Medical Practice

June 9, 2015

Wondering what's appropriate to wear at your medical practice? Always feel guilty when you go on vacation? Let the Civility CEO help.

Dear Sue,

I have a busy obstetrics and gynecology practice. One of the aspects I enjoy most about my work is getting to know patients during their pregnancies. Developing these relationships is great - until I go away on vacation or to attend a medical conference. Some patients get very upset when I announce my pending absence because they don't want their babies to be delivered by anyone but me. While I understand their concerns, I have a tough time helping them accept that I simply won't be there and that the locum tenens physician I choose can be trusted. Frankly, sometimes I feel guilty about going away. Can you help me resolve this issue?

Bad News Bearer

Dear Bad News Bearer,

You've presented two distinct concerns here: (1) Establishing trust between your patients and your locum, and (2) feeling guilty about going away. Let's deal with each issue individually, starting with the question of trust.

Even when you aren't away there's no guarantee you'll be available for every delivery. As you well know, traffic, surgery, and other unpredictable realities of life can get in the way. Part of bonding with your patients is preparing them for the fact that there's always a chance that someone else might be delivering their baby.

Information is the first step in creating trust. As soon as you have confirmation of the dates you'll be away, and have hired a locum, let patients know so they can make an informed decision about how they wish to proceed.

If at all possible, bring your locum on early so you can begin making introductions and start passing the torch. If that's not feasible, you may want to consider hosting one or two special events where patients can meet and mingle with you and your locum before you go away.

It can also be beneficial to provide written information about your stand-in for patients and their partners or coaches to review. In addition to highlighting your locum's credentials and adding some testimonials, include a photograph; it helps people identify with the person they'll be sharing one of the most memorable - and oftentimes frightening - experiences of life with.

Providing these facts will help patients feel better about your absence. Still, some people may opt to see another obstetrician for continuity, while others will be just fine with the fact that you're going away. Which leads to the second part of your question, guilt.

I'll keep this short. Whether it's for personal, professional, educational, medical, or spiritual reasons, you deserve time away. Your patients and your staff need you to be wholly present when you're at work. That's not possible without taking time to learn, rest, and grow. You can turn your guilt into gratitude by honoring your natural need to reenergize, reflect, and regroup.

Dear Sue,

I don't know what to wear to work anymore. I'm a GP at a large clinic, and, as far as I know, we don't have a dress policy. I see everything from suits and ties to scrubs and sneakers, with low-riding blue jeans and low-cut tops in between. What is considered to be appropriate attire for medical professionals these days?

Style Searcher

Dear Style Searcher,

You're not alone in wondering about your wardrobe. As our culture changes, so does our standard of professionalism. But one thing that will never change is that all of us - subliminally and overtly - form impressions of other people within seconds of laying eyes on them. Which is good news for you, because from now on you get to guide what that impression is.

Not having a formalized dress policy is no excuse for not dressing professionally. Despite a lack of direction you can still develop your own style. It begins with determining three things: (1) What you feel comfortable and confident wearing, (2) what kind of clothing you think exemplifies your experience and education, and (3) what meets the expectations of your patients and higher-ups.

I recommend you start building a flexible wardrobe, aiming for quality over quantity. Begin with the basics, which are the same for men and women and include a pair of well-fitting black dress pants, a variety of collared, buttoned shirts, a pair of comfortable classic shoes, and a tailored jacket or blazer. From there, the sky is the limit. Women can begin adding skirts, dresses, accessories, and colorful tops, and men can enhance their wardrobe with beige, brown, or navy slacks, colored shirts, and a couple of different blazers or sport jackets. By the way, I'm not saying you have to wear a jacket every day, but having one on standby can certainly come in handy.

Of course in lieu of a jacket or blazer, many medical professionals wear a lab coat. If this is you, make sure your lab coat is clean and that it fits properly. If issued scrubs make up part of your wardrobe, choose the best of the bunch. If you buy your own scrubs, select ones that are of high quality and replace them when necessary.

You may want to check with your executive team about the existence of a dress policy. If there isn't one, take the lead and make some suggestions about creating a few guidelines. And if there is a policy, ask to see it. Many pre-existing policies have long been forgotten and could use some sprucing up themselves.

Clothing contrarians will argue that it shouldn't matter what a person wears. And they're right, it shouldn't. But the fact of the matter is, it does.

Sue Jacques, The Civility CEO®, is a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, keynote speaker, and author. Jacques helps people and practices gain confidence, earn respect, and prosper through professionalism by creating courteous corporate cultures. She can be reached at info@TheCivilityCEO.com.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.