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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Advice for New Grads: What Not to Wear

Published March 5, 2012 10:10 AM by Lisa Lombardo
Prior to attending APTA's Combined Sections Meeting last month, I took a look at the programming schedule for more unique presentations that stand out from the rest of the clinical-heavy programming. I'll pick a few out to feature in preview blogs for our readers to get interest generated should readers be attending the conference and looking for interesting sessions to visit.

One of them struck me immediately: "What You Wear to Work: Appropriate Attire and Professional Image for Our Doctoring Profession."

This was a cross-section presentation and caught my interest because it broached a subject we at ADVANCE know a lot about. We constantly hear readers' opinions on how PTs and PTAs are presented in our pages and on our website. If a therapist doesn't approve of what the subject is wearing, we are often the first to know--even though we had no control over what any given therapist in a clinic is wearing on the specific day of our photo shoot.

The presenters at the session cited research that resulted from studies on patient perceptions of clinicians who wore certain types of clothing or uniforms while on the job. The panelists had a little fun too, in the form of a "fashion show" of volunteer students who dressed in varying stages of attire, some appropriate for work at a clinic or hospital and some not so appropriate.

As it turns out, other therapists are not the only people to notice what you are wearing and how you present yourself in a clinic. The major point made: Therapists' attire has just as much of an effect on patient perception of therapists' ability as it does on your boss or supervisors' perception. If your new boss doesn't seem to mind your multiple piercings or your tinted-blue hair, fine--but be aware that the patients you treat might find such appearances, well, off-putting. And it doesn't merely come down to their conservative preferences; the research cited by the presenters says your appearance just might be equated to how competent you are as a therapist.

Mostly, the research showed that while patients preferred physicians wearing white lab coats while delivering treatment, patients overall preferred that their therapist in an inpatient setting be wearing scrubs (in a solid color) and a Polo shirt and twill slacks in an outpatient setting. In a companion study, the same results were found for inpatient and outpatient clinic directors respectively. The studies went into other details as well, including what patients saw as least desirable in clinician dress (i.e., too-colorful attire, casual, open shoes, unkempt hair, "play" clothes like shorts), and what was considered "impractical" (i.e., flip-flops or too-high heels, hanging or too-loose clothing, accessories like ties and scarves that could carry germs).

The take-away lesson here: Be mindful of how you dress because it says a lot about you---not just to your supervisor, but also to your patients. Something as simple as choosing the right footwear and covering up your tats can ensure your success in the workplace as you enter your first job.

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