What is considered professional attire for staff in a medical office?

Medical offices are usually somewhat more casual than the typical corporate office. In the realm of business dress, most medical offices allow the categories of General Business and Business Casual attire, with staff falling into more of the “Smart Casual” range of the Business Casual classification.

For women, smart casual clothing that remains businesslike includes slacks, sweaters, skirts, blouses, knit tops, etc. Separates, not suits, make up this category, but the smart-casual look is chic and well coordinated. A particular office’s policy determines how dressy the garments must be. For example, some offices do not allow or encourage cotton pants or skirts unless they are pressed and crisp, as many wash-and-wear cotton fabrics appear rumpled and overly casual when they’re not ironed.

Jeans, shorts, Capri pants, leggings, and tank tops are all too casual for medical offices. Women’s necklines and skirt lengths should remain modest, as they should in any traditional business environment, which the world of medicine is.

A recent CNNfn survey revealed that 64 per cent of Americans do NOT want their doctors or nurses to be dressed in extremely casual attire. When dressed ultra casually, the patients said it inferred that these medical professionals:

  • Did not always use good judgment
  • Did not pay attention to detail
  • Did not care about a high-level of professionalism in their practice, which could easily transfer into casual or careless attitudes about their patients’ diagnosis and treatment.

This can also be applied to office staff as dress policies usually come from the top down. If a doctor or group of doctors allow their staff to be ultra causal, it reflects back onto the doctor. Patients will assume that the doctor may be disorganized or sloppy with her/his work as well. That’s just how nonverbal communication works. Whether accurate or not, people make certain assumptions based upon mere appearance. If those assumptions are negative, trust must be earned, and often repeatedly earned.

Some medical offices allow (and/or encourage) their staff to wear scrubs or scrub-like uniforms. Scrubs can send the “authorized medical worker” message on the nonverbal level, but it’s important that the scrubs are pristine, not rumpled or even child-esque with rainbows, teddy bears, toys, bows, etc. The later are only permissible for pediatric offices or elderly-care units and even then, they must be in top condition to convey a professional attitude.

The funny thing about scrubs is that the word itself implies a “scrubbed” condition, but all too often they fall far short of the mark, particularly the perma-press versions. Scrubs were originally intended for surgeons and surgical attendants. Now it has become common for all medical personnel that have patient contact and/or work with agents that easily soil or stain regular clothing (such as medicines, bodily fluids, cleaning supplies, etc.) to wear scrubs. In most cases, medical office staff people do not handle these items; so they have no need to wear scrubs. Nonetheless, many medical offices adopt the policy of all workers wearing scrubs, usually in coordinated colors, merely to project a unified and hospital-like image. I am only in favor of this if there is also a requirement that the scrubs be ironed, clean, and solid color.

Regardless of the attitudes in your office, it’s dangerous to sacrifice your professionalism because what you wear now, and how you conduct yourself now, affects your professional reputation and your future opportunities.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave


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