What is essential professional dress in health care?

While visiting a family member in the hospital recently, I noticed the unkempt attire of one of the lab people coming in to draw blood. As she knelt down to better reach my family member’s arm, I noticed her scrub pants were frayed and dirty from her walking on them.

Shortly after I made note of this, one of her co-workers came in the room to see how she was doing and noted the same thing. However, she said something out loud about the fact that her scrub pants were too long and should be shortened, so they weren’t dragging on the ground. The person with the dirty scrubs said, “she couldn’t be bothered with that, after all they are only work pants.” My immediate thought was this: If she can’t be bothered with being well groomed what else can’t she be bothered with?

A visible mark of distinction for your organization can be what your employees wear. If they are poorly dressed or poorly groomed the impression the public gets of your organization can be a negative one. Or like me, they wonder what else isn’t be attended to.

What is the appropriate dress for the staff and physicians in offices and hospitals today?

This question is one that causes confusion in many work places, not just the medical arena. Staying current and up with the times in dress is important. The days of everyone being in white and nursing caps seems to be a thing of the past. However, problems can arise if guidelines are not specific. Dress codes left to individual interpretation can leave room for big surprises.

Uniforms of some sort give an air of professionalism and a sense of solidarity. Different departments often adopt a certain color unique to them and easily identifiable. For instance, pediatric situations may want to gear their uniforms to the children, so they do not seem threatening. In certain departments, lab coats over street clothes offer protection and look professional. Scrubs are essential in many areas and reduce concern for getting clothes soiled. Shirts or coats with hospital and group logos offer another good choice.

One of the most important ideas of uniforms is to let the public know who you are, that you are at work, not at play, that you are not some stranger off the street who comes into a patient room in the middle of the night. In short, you should look like what you do and who you are.
If anyone has to question what you do or if you are working, it may be time to evaluate what you are wearing.

The need to move unencumbered in many situations presents some unique challenges. Here are some basic tips for dressing today:

  • Establish well-defined dress codes and enforce them.
  • Be clean and well groomed. Shorter fingernails are more professional and more hygienic. Save nail art and dramatic nail color for social situations.
  • Hair kept short or up is suitable and more professional in health care.
  • Keep make-up subtle.
  • Fragrances should be kept to a minimum and if you smoke consider how you smell leaning over a sick patient.
  • Well-fitting clothes are a benefit to everyone, no matter the size.
  • Clothes should be clean, well maintained and pressed.
  • Invest in, and use a full-length mirror before leaving the house.
  • Pants may not be flattering to all women. If that is the case, consider a uniform with a skirt.
  • Jackets and blazers add an air of authority and professionalism to men and women.
  • Identification badges should be visible at all times (first names only may be necessary for security reasons). Enforce identification with an introduction.
  • Save athletic shoes for athletics. Wear clean, polished, professional shoes. No sandals.
  • Jewelry kept simple and to a minimum presents a more professional image.
  • Gum chewing is a solitary activity and should not be done in public.
  • Individuals in administrative positions or positions that do not require a uniform, including physicians, should use care to look professional and well groomed. It is just as important as those requiring a uniform.

It has been said, that the way we are dressed can influence the way we work and how we are perceived. When the public looks at you and views your work environment, what do they see?

Remember, what Mark Twain said: “Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence in the society.”

Karen Hickman is founder, Professional Courtesy and can be reached on Twitter @Karen_V_Hickman.  

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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