Guest Post: Appropriate Dress for Medical Staff and Physicians

As a savvy etiquette reader, you’re already familiar with the importance of professional dress. As you go about your morning routine, your positive attitude and pulled-together look provide you with a solid base for a productive, enjoyable day.  The same care you take in your appearance and demeanor should certainly be taken by your friendly healthcare professionals as well.  After all, you’re more likely to feel at ease when you notice the thought and careful attention taken by the staff at your doctor’s office.

I’m sharing a guest post today from Ms. Karen Hickman of Professional Courtesy, LLC. Having practiced both in a hospital and medical office and being married to a family practice physician for many years, Karen has personal insights about the critical issues affecting medical practices today.

Keep reading for Karen’s thoughts on contemporary medical attire…

Healthcare is very competitive today. Distinguishing a large group or institution from all the other groups and hospitals can be a daily challenge. Some of the ways this can be done is by maintaining a professional, yet personal, approach in dealing with patients and the public at large. A visible mark of distinction can be what your employees wear.

What is the appropriate dress for medical staff and physicians in offices and hospitals today?

This question is one that causes confusion in many work places, not just the medical arena. Staying current and up with the times in dress is important. The days of everyone being in white and nursing caps is largely, a thing of the past. However, problems can arise if guidelines are not specific. Dress codes left to individual interpretation can leave a company wide open for some unacceptable attire.

Uniforms of some sort give an air of professionalism and a sense of solidarity. Different departments often adopt a certain color unique to them and easily identifiable. For instance, pediatric situations may want to gear their uniforms to the children so they do not seem threatening. In certain departments, lab coats over street clothes offer protection and look professional. Scrubs are essential in many areas and reduce concern for getting clothes soiled. Shirts or coats with hospital and group logos offer another good choice.

One of the most important reasons for uniforms is to let the public know who you are, that you are at work, not at play, and that you are not some stranger off the street who comes into a patient room in the middle of the night. In short, you should look like what you do and who you are.

If anyone has to question what you do or if you are working, it may be time to evaluate what you are wearing.

Here are some basic tips for dressing in today’s medical arenas:

  • Establish well defined dress codes and enforce them.
  • Be clean and well groomed. Shorter fingernails are more professional and more hygienic. Avoid acrylic and artificial nails. Save nail art and dramatic nail color for social situations.
  • Hair kept short or up is suitable and more professional. It is also, more hygienic.
  • Limit body piercings and tattoos.
  • Keep make-up subtle.
  • Fragrances should be kept to a minimum and if you smoke consider how you smell leaning over a sick patient. Use breath mints and mouthwash. Consider not smoking in your uniform.
  • Well fitting clothes are a benefit to everyone, no matter their size.
  • Clothes should be clean, well maintained and pressed.
  • Panty hose should be worn with skirts, bare legs are unprofessional.
  • Invest in, and use a full length mirror before leaving the house.
  • Pants may not be flattering to all women. If that is the case, consider a uniform with a skirt.
  • Identification badges should be visible at all times (first names only, may be necessary for security reasons) and should be worn on the right shoulder so they are easily seen. Add a verbal introduction, stating your name and position.
  • Save athletic shoes for athletics. Wear clean, polished, professional shoes.
  • If you do wear athletic shoes make sure they are reserved exclusively for work.
  • No sandals, slides or crocs…shoes with closed toes and heels are best.
  • Jewelry kept simple and to a minimum presents a more professional image.
  • Gum chewing is not a part of any uniform.

Individuals in administrative positions or positions that do not require uniforms, including physicians, should use care to look professional and well-groomed. It is just as important as those requiring a uniform. Jackets and blazers add an air of authority and professionalism to men and women.

It has been said, that the way we are dressed can influence the way we work and how we are perceived. Is it time for your organization to re-evaluate your dress code?

Karen Hickman’s insights into and solutions for vexing medical issues, especially in the office practice, are practical, easy to implement and, above all, necessary. Her medical programs are designed to train medical professionals in the important art of professional courtesy. She has presented her programs to hundreds of medical people at major medical and nursing conferences across the country.

Recognized nationally for her speaking, training and writing for business publications and professional journals, she was also a major contributor to the book, Dishing Up Smiles, published by the American Dental Association Alliance. Learn more about Karen by visiting her website.  


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. says

    Diane and Karen, I agree completely. Having also worked in the healthcare field for many years I am saddened by the appearance of many in this field. I especially feel sorry for patients who may have difficulty telling one department from the other.
    It is possible to be comfortable and move with ease while still looking professional

  2. says

    Thank you so much, for inviting me to be your guest blogger regarding a subject about which I am passionate; professional courtesy in healthcare.” I hope your readers will find value in the topic and the tips will enhance how they are percieved as professionals.

    Your colleague in etiquette and protocol…
    Karen Hickman

  3. says

    Its was nice to know about the author’s insight on medical attire. I personally liked the ideas which i can’t wait to share with my friends who are in medical profession. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of information.

  4. Diane says

    Thank you for your kind words. Karen Hickman is the author and I will pass along your comments.

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