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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Clothes Make the Man -or Woman!

Published June 28, 2009 2:54 PM by Glen McDaniel

Yesterday, I accompanied a friend to the doctor to provide moral support and also to "translate". My friend historically has had a very negative experience with the medical establishment and hasn't always had an advocate for her as she navigated the complex system. So I knew it was important to her that I tagged along as her "insider."

The visit itself went very well until my friend went to have blood drawn. The phlebotomist was overly made. sported fake nails, a low cut blouse and a lab coat with stains that I didn't even want to guess what they were. I could only imagine what the rest of her outfit under the baggy lab coat-shroud looked like.

Not only was the outfit distracting, she gave the appearance of someone who did not care enough about her work, her profession or her patients to present a professional appearance. Rightly or wrongly, I immediately thought she gave patients the impression of being less than competent.

She did a successful venipuncture on my friend on the second attempt. She did not have a badge so I did not know her name or title, but I was totally "underwhelmed" with the experience- as was my friend.

How many times have we looked around the workplace and seen colleagues sporting attire that was inappropriate for the workplace or untidy in some way? If laboratorians don't leave the lab or have patient contact is it , therefore, OK for them to be careless about their attire and appearance? People do judge us by our dress-they make all sorts of assumptions based on appearance.

Professionals, like clinical laboratorians, should be cognizant that whether or not clothes make the man - or woman,  they sure do create a powerful and lasting impression.

9 comments

Can someone please refresh my memory on the monkey that was treated in the emergency room at Ozarks Medical Center?

J Surprised August 26, 2009 6:17 PM

Our facility recently adopted a policy for patient care staff to wear designated colors of scrubs.  The theory was patients would recognize our department/speciality if we were color coded.   Our nursing staff were assigned navy blue and white or any combination thereof.  Support staff adopted khaki.  And here lies the problem...the laboratory staff have worn navy blue lab coats for years and when we requested khaki no one in authority told us that another group was already assigned khaki.  Now we can't even tell each other apart.  I understand the premise behind the policy change it just wasn't handled as effectively as it could have been.  %0d%0aAs a side note, when you know you are wearing a uniform to work everyday, it should be extremely easy to keep your uniform clean, wrinkle free and size appropriate.   We have had to counsel employees on the appearance of their scrubs.  Our phlebotomy staff represent our entire lab and we ask that their appearance reflect professionalism. %0d%0aI've been with our facility for 23 years and our dress code has definitely changed over the years.  As trends change and new "norms" are adopted (body piercings, tattoos, crocs, crop pants, orange/blue/green hair) we have all had to make changes.%0d%0a%0d%0aI agree, ultimately the patient's perception of our abilities based on our appearance should be uppermost in our minds.

Melinda King, Phlebotomist - Support Services Coordinator, Ozarks Medical Center July 28, 2009 8:15 AM
West Plains MO

Our facility recently adopted a policy for patient care staff to wear designated colors of scrubs.  The theory was patients would recognize our department/speciality if we were color coded.   Our nursing staff were assigned navy blue and white or any combination thereof.  Support staff adopted khaki.  And here lies the problem...the laboratory staff have worn navy blue lab coats for years and when we requested khaki no one in authority told us that another group was already assigned khaki.  Now we can't even tell each other apart.  I understand the premise behind the policy change it just wasn't handled as effectively as it could have been.  %0d%0aAs a side note, when you know you are wearing a uniform to work everyday, it should be extremely easy to keep your uniform clean, wrinkle free and size appropriate.   We have had to counsel employees on the appearance of their scrubs.  Our phlebotomy staff represent our entire lab and we ask that their appearance reflect professionalism. %0d%0aI've been with our facility for 23 years and our dress code has definitely changed over the years.  As trends change and new "norms" are adopted (body piercings, tattoos, crocs, crop pants, orange/blue/green hair) we have all had to make changes.%0d%0a%0d%0aI agree, ultimately the patient's perception of our abilities based on our appearance should be uppermost in our minds.

Melinda King, Phlebotomist - Support Services Coordinator, Ozarks Medical Center July 28, 2009 8:15 AM
West Plains MO

I am extremely grateful now to work at a hospital where professionalism (in appearance AND behavior), teamwork, and positivity are highly prioritized rather than micromanagement of what color scrubs women wear - or the presence of "prints" that may do something horrible like psychologically improve the atmosphere of the lab I previously mentioned.  

I definitely count my current employer along with Duke and the Lafayette, IN hospital to which I first traveled among the places where I actually looked forward to working in every day.  Not feeling like I'm serving eight, ten, or however many hours of prison time per day is wonderful!

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center July 23, 2009 9:40 PM
Danville VA

Actually Stephanie, I think we are not too far apart on this issue. I agree with what you say. People can be too anal and controlling and try to tell everyone else how to dress even though we are all individual. That is crazy and not what I am suggesting.

Who says I shouldnt wear a certain color for instance? That is taking it too far. But I still think it is reasonable to expect people to be clean and neat. I think lab coats hould be white and free of stains from body fluids and various chemicals. Same thing for shoes.

I was out at a fair with some friends of mine and they were all commenting on how some of the young girls dressed. I know this was outside of the work place, but there it was my friends were all judging these kids, questioning their morals (and even family) based on their dress even though we knew nothing about them.

Maybe because of our discussion on this blog I have been paying more attention to how people dress and also what other people comment- and it's remarkable how often people judge others based on dress.

A nurse came to the blood bank to get some blood  a few days ago and as soon as she left one of the techs said "Can you imagine having a nurse who dresses like that?"  The discussion for the next hour was how uprofessional she looked. For all we know she might have been the best nurse on the floor, but we all questioned her competency based on her tight, dingy see through pants and top.

PS I did tell them about this discussion on this blog by the way. I dont know if anyone has read it. They had some strong opinions so I hope they vistit and write a comment here.

Jonas MT(ASCP) July 11, 2009 1:17 PM
Chattanooga TN

Our most recent commenter made some understandable points about people judging caregivers at health care facilities by their appearance because that's just what most of us tend to do, whether appearance actually reflects on one's work ethic or competency.

However, "loud colors" could be subjectively defined in about a million ways by a million different people, as I alluded to with the Eden, NC hospital lab manager's policy forbidding any kind of pictures on even scrub tops with white backgrounds (when worn with white pants)!  

This woman also prohibited "loud" colors of nail polish (anything other than pale pink or peach-colored) on NATURAL nails.  I fail to understand how that is a safety issue if the nails are trimmed to 1/4 inch or less in length - OR an appearance issue, for that matter, if they don't look "nasty."

I also went to elementary school during the 1980's, putting me on the line between Generations X and Y...and attended the PhD program in Pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine for one year.  Perhaps that's why I tend to question control freak policies such as the one I mentioned above that seem to have originated with one woman's desire to act on her unreasonable power trips.  I did not join the military because I did not wish to be ordered around as to exactly what color clothing I am allowed to wear to work!

Whether a hospital requires its lab personnel to perform phlebotomy or not, I believe scrubs are professional enough for any of them - without bringing the "loud color" criteria into a dress code.

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center July 6, 2009 3:40 AM
Danville VA

I hear what you all are saying. I dont think  Glen is saying you have to wear a suit to work, but come on, no one wants to deal with someone who is untidy.

I personally like to be clean and neat even if I am in a rush leaving the house, even if I am working in the lab with only my colleagues that know me, and have zero patient contact.

I hate to wear or see rumpled, dirty clothes, loud colors or scuffed worn out shoes. Especially if the person is a professional. Dont you?

What would you think if you went to a doctor and he or she had greasy hair, dirty clothes and torn jeans? Wouldnt you assume maybe he or she isnt as good of a doctor? That's just human nature. What if  your relative was in the hospitall and they told you the person drawing their  blood had saggy pants, dirty sneakers, nasty fingernails  and a scuffy beard? Would you be OK with that?

Clothes dont have to be formal or fancy, but we should respect our colleagues, patients and our profession enough to look the part of professionals.

Jonas MT(ASCP) July 4, 2009 8:24 PM
Chattanooga TN

When I worked second shift in the Clinical Microbiology laboratory of Duke University Medical Center a few years ago, our job involved absolutely NO patient contact, and jeans were allowed as long as they did not have holes in them.

In my next job, the laboratory supervisor decided to make her dress code stricter than that of the hospital - requiring men to wear dress shirts AND ties underneath their lab coats.  However, women were allowed to wear scrubs as long as they were white or navy blue and displayed NO prints or designs whatsoever on them. (This control freak told me she did not want any of her employees looking like cartoon characters - the point of which I also failed to recognize since ALL of us wore lab coats.)

The hospital at which I am currently employed recently adopted the Life Point system's dress code, which "officially" forbids casual clothing such as blue jeans.  However, I would not be extremely surprised if the technician with whom I worked on night shift when I initially rotated into working nights still wears blue jeans or pants that resemble pajama bottoms.

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center June 30, 2009 4:42 PM
Danville VA

Maybe I am too much an academic, or perhaps it is because I am a generation X'er on the cusp of being a generation Y guy, I do not think that laboratorians need to dress in business or even business casual styles. This is not to say that they should be dressed in clothes that are "ratty" or too revealing, but I see no problem with jeans and a t-shirt. For safety reasons I can see the need for closed toed shoes, clothing that covers the legs, and a clean, well maintained lab coat. Most facilities that I know of have a policy against the use of artificial nails, and require the display of a badge. I find it ridiculous that a laboratorian who does not see patients/customers in person should have to wear business or business casual clothing.

Glenn, Molecular Biology - Scientist June 30, 2009 12:41 PM
IL

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