What Not to Wear in Healthcare…

Picture this: you’re sitting in a waiting room. You’re anxious, sick, and uneasy, and a medical professional asks you to come to the back. How does what they are wearing affect your mood? Will they be able to put your mind at ease or make you even more nervous?

A rising trend today is self-expression in your profession. But when attempting to be stylish, many medical professionals are neglecting the perception of the patients.

There’s a new generation taking over our healthcare offices and reinventing the dress code. Everyday wear is slowly seeping into office culture. Necklines are plunging, sleeves are getting shorter or disappearing all together, skirts and dresses are becoming shorter and tighter. FashionNova, a clothing brand known for its popularity with Instagram influencers who call themselves “NovaBabes”, is selling scrubs. Some departments who don’t work directly with patients are opting for a more relaxed look and disregarding the long-held tradition of “professional dress” in their healthcare offices.  The Millennial generation has a habit of trying to push societal norms, empowering themselves through freedom of expression. We didn’t see Boomers trying to wear their go-go boots, hot pants, and denim jumpsuits in the operating room, so why should we encourage it today?

The way you look influences the confidence and trust your patients put in you. In the largest study of its kind, researchers at The University of Michigan studied over 4,000 patients across 10 academic hospitals and concluded that the traditional white doctors coat with formal attire underneath was the most preferred attire among those surveyed. A majority of the people surveyed said that physician apparel was important to them (https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/5/e021239). With dress codes becoming more casual, patients may not see their health care professionals as, well, professional.

You will have to decide how much patient perception should impact what you wear to work. Whatever your dress code may be, there are some guidelines that are standards of what not to wear:

  • Tight or revealing clothing can make some patients uncomfortable. Additionally, anything too baggy could be viewed as careless or sloppy.
  • Avoid wearing clothing or accessories that will enable cross contamination. Watches, scarves, or long necklaces may spread bacteria.
  • Ensure your uniform isn’t soiled or wrinkled, and all clothing is laundered frequently.
  • Hygiene is important! Messy and unkempt hair could be perceived as dirty or untidy.
  • Strike a healthy balance between showing your personal style and who your patients perceive you to be. Visible tattoos, loud clothing, and oversized earrings may not instill trust in your profession.
  • A tie is a great idea for a nonoperative or nonemergency office but may carry bacteria or contaminate patients. Even the doctors white coat has come under scrutiny as a vehicle to spread germs, as the long sleeves can cause cross contamination.  Make sure you are aware of who you will be interacting with and judge what you should or shouldn’t be wearing that day.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” formula of what to wear in healthcare but try to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. What would put your mind at ease? How do you want to see your medical professionals dressed?


  • AHEC Blog
  • Kay Kegley

    Kay Kegley joined AHEC in 2020 and has since played a vital role in producing high-quality content for the company's blog, social media, and video productions. Her skills in writing, editing, and producing content have been invaluable in helping the company reach a wider audience and continue to provide top-quality education to healthcare professionals across the country.

2 thoughts on “What Not to Wear in Healthcare…

  1. I read the study you cites, though 53% said they cared, it also said only just over one third said it mattered with their overall satisfaction. I don’t know if you did it intentionally or it was an oversight but to me that study says it has some but not a majority of influence on patient’s satisfaction. Do i think doctors or other professionals shoukd dress like they are going to the club, not really, but untraditional wear isn’t necessarily a big deal either. Also when you are talking about peoples preferences, 4000 is a small number to study. Just some thoughts.

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