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The discussion of professional dress.

Oh, I know.  The discussion of professional dress is as alluring as a progressive lens non-adapt at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.  

It’s costly, and when you get right down to it, a bit controversial.  If you’re waiting for a diatribe on spending the kid’s tuition on suits and shoes, we aren’t going that way.  

At the end of the day, it’s about your professional image and the type of patients you’d like to maintain.

Broad appeal is all at once a good thing and an easy target to miss.   What works for Dr. Bill in the middle of New Jersey could be a disaster in an Appalachian mining town.  (“Are those tassel loafers, Doc?  Really?  Didn’t the mining company lawyer wear those?”  You get the drift.)

So, how do we approach proper dress? I’ve always admired the sartorial approach of our ODs on FB member Justin Coleman, OD.  I agree with Dr. Coleman’s take that “There’s a certain level of formality expected in being a medical profession, i.e., dressing like you did so with PURPOSE.

The American dress code has been over-casualized (I’m looking at you “leggings for every occasion”). I treat my office attire as a uniform: slacks, collared shirt, and most of a time a tie.”  

On wardrobe value, Dr. Coleman goes on to say, “Best value: longevity, sales, and liking what I buy. If you buy something that you only wear once and then quit liking it, it’s expensive.  And lastly, I want it to last.”

Broadly, it’s probably best to dress in slightly better quality, on average, than your patients.

You want to convey success without rubbing anyone’s nose in it.  Show that you care enough to look your best.  Clean, neat, and current styling are all given.  

If your style indicates a Tommy Bahama short sleeve shirt and khakis, great, but clean and pressed is the rule.  Our practice is blessed with an affluent patient base, so a decent suit and shoes tend to get more compliments than suspicions.

How about scrubs?  It’s not my choice, as I don’t believe that most of us do procedures that indicate this level of dress.  

If your style is to do so, stay crisp and have a nice logo.  If you are doing it for “hygiene,” it’s erroneous.  Scrubs are usually undergarments in the most sterile of settings, and all is lost when we go from patient to patient while wearing them as outer garments.  

My mom was a nurse at a hospital during World War 2, and one of their big regulations was that you could not leave the hospital in scrubs, due to potential contamination.  

Forgive my cringe when I see medical types in scrubs at Starbucks, especially the ones that I KNOW work on the gastroenterology service!!

How about that necktie?

These alleged germ-vectors get a bad rap for being uncomfortable, etc.  Getting a shirt that fits is a big help, as the right neck size allows the tie to be tied loosely, but against the top button.  

Although the tie is not de rigeur as it once was, there are plenty of patients who appreciate the confidence and formality that the tie radiates.  Use a nice clasp, and you won’t dunk the thing in your honey mustard dressing.  BTW, when was the last time you suspected that a patient got an infection from your necktie, or a nice ladies’ scarf?

For the ladies, and guys too, do we show a little toe?  For some traditionalists, it doesn’t convey hygiene.  There, I said it.  Sandals and mandals may not be the best choices for the clinical setting in that sense, and our tons of movement may present stubbing or slipping hazards.  

Looking down at my own feet, this is one area where I’d stay on the slightly conservative side, and cover up. 

Let’s summarize, regarding those patients you’d like to attract.

It seems that if you “dress down,” you will certainly have a following from those in similar apparel.  If you dress up just a bit, the down-dressers will not condemn you (unless you wear those tassel loafers!), but you’ll attract the more image-conscious patients who perhaps have more disposable income.  This has certainly been true for all of my 34 years in practice.

This has certainly been true for all of my 34 years in practice.

My bottom line is to do nothing in personal appearance that would be a negative while avoiding the hot buttons that some will find.  This refers especially to our Millennial patients, whose values may oppose the $2000 John Lobb shoes and the $3000 Paul Stuart suit.  

Talk it over with staff, and even patients, and you’ll come out ahead.  Go too far on the casual or non-traditional side, and you’ll never know what you’ve missed.   The challenge is to find that comfort zone for your particular patient base.  

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Bill Potter
Associate Editor, Dugout Dirt Editorial for Dr. Bill Potter is the senior optometrist at Millennium Eye Care in Freehold, New Jersey. Millennium is a multi-subspecialty optometry/ophthalmology practice, where Bill has practiced for 31 years. Prior to this, he served for 3 years as a Captain and optometrist in the U.S. Air Force. Bill is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. He serves as a member of the Review of Optometry’s Editorial Board. The Primary Care Optometry News honored Dr. Potter in 2016 by listing him as one of the “PCON 250” top leaders and innovators in his field. Dr. Potter has a special interest in uveitis and other ocular inflammatory diseases and has lectured and published many articles in this area. Most recently, Bill’s CE article on “Red Disease in Glaucoma” appeared in the March 2017 Review of Optometry.


    • Sir, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Local knowledge, and you’ve emphasized the quality aspect. Check out Leddy’s Ranch in Fort Worth, if you like nice western shirts. I get my Luccheses there, but I can’t wear two western items in New Jersey. They’d lasso and hog tie you.