Should dentists dress for success and Executive Presence?

At this time of year, many of us are busy scouring our closets in search of the perfect holiday outfit.

We are fretting over clothing, accessories, shoes, hairstyles, and more, trying to make a great impression at our upcoming holiday work, family, and social events.

But, do we put the same time and care into selecting our daily working wardrobe?

Probably not. This is particularly true for many new graduates who haven’t given much thought to changing from their student attire to appropriate career dressing and styling. 

Executive Presence encompasses many areas of professionalism, including communication, honesty, integrity, attitude, punctuality, and dress, so perhaps more time should be devoted to this topic. That being said, deciding what to wear to work can be especially difficult for those employed in the medical and healthcare fields.

I have a client who recently graduated with an advanced degree from a world-renowned dental school. Now employed, she was continuing to wear her scrubs to work, and it was impacting how she felt about herself as a newly- minted professional, and how her employer and patients viewed her as well.

Certainly, scrubs have a place in our professional world. They offer numerous advantages including:

1.  Comfort: When working in medical and dental environments, scrubs can be comfortable to wear during long, demanding days.

2.  Identification: Scrubs can help healthcare workers stand out from other co-workers employed in a variety of medical settings. This is particularly useful in emergency situations.

3.  Ease: Wearing uniforms such as scrubs help minimize planning and wardrobe decision making in the morning, and helps simplify daily routines.

4.  Infection control: Scrubs provide protection from environmental contamination of street-clothes.

5.  Reassurance: In pediatric settings, colorful scrubs can reduce anxiety in younger patients.

An interesting study was published in the British Dental Journal in December 2007, entitled, Patient preferences for dental clinical attire: a cross-sectional survey in a dental hospital. The authors, McKenna, Lillywhite, and Maini, surveyed 188 dental patients via questionnaires to obtain their attitudes toward their dentist and his/her choice of clothing. The authors were seeking information about physical appearance, and how it affects first impressions, and impacts interpersonal relationships.

The findings of the study suggest the following:

   Patients do pay attention to how their dentists are dressed. According to the survey, women typically pay more attention to dress than men, and older patients (46-64 years old), appear to favor more formal attire than younger patients. Younger patients generally prefer less traditional and/or formal clothing.

   Patients are supportive of dentists wearing appropriate safety gear such as masks and goggles.

   Patients strongly favor the use of name-tags.

Overall, patients expressed a strong preference for well-dressed dental professionals, who wear a white lab coat over their high- quality street clothes.

According to the results, well dressed dentists convey qualities of authority, professionalism and cleanliness. As Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing.”

Of course, the clinical environment, patient demographics, and other factors must be taken into consideration when determining how to dress for success in a dental practice.

What happened to my client who stepped up her sartorial game? The owner of her practice took note, and asked her, “What is going on with your new look?” My client proudly replied, “I am doctor!”  And since she has ditched her scrubs, her mentor is calling her Doctor, too.

If you need any assistance with your communication skills or executive presence, contact Marjorie at: