Physicians are rated on many characteristics; ability to relate to a patient, surgical skills, complication rate and income, to name a few. But I have never seen a rating based on outward appearance, until last week when reading a study about how a physician is perceived by a patient based on their dress. Not too surprisingly, female physicians were judged more severely than male physicians. The conclusion of the study was that patients often used first impressions when meeting a new doctor and either end of the spectrum for style was problematic. Too frumpy and the doctor was perceived as incompetent. Too much bling or style and the doctor was more concerned about income than the patient.A few days later another study was reported that looked at spread of germs between patients by hospital personnel. Handwashing between patients was seen as most effective to reduce infection, but the second and third sources of contamination were not so easy to treat – cuffs of clothing and mens ties! The conclusion of the report was to wash hands, wear short or 3/4 length sleeves and get rid of ties.
Shopping for my work clothes has always been problematic but now I needed to keep these additional factors in mind. Other confounding variables are listed below.
1. I don’t like to shop and don’t have much time when I do shop. Therefore, I tend to shop at the same store(s) where I know my size, the price is what I am willing to pay and I can usually find 2-3 items so that my infrequent trips can be worthwhile.
2. Because I shop at the same store, each of my outfits tends to be a variation on a theme.
3. When most women develop their fashion style in their 20’s, I was a poor college student and barely able to afford an extra pair of jeans. Standard work attire in the hospital was scrubs. By the time my income was such to start shopping beyond Wal-Mart, I was pregnant 3 times in 7 years.
4. Fashion in the 80’s and early 90’s involved shoulder pads, high-waisted pants and gaudy colors. No one looked good! The picture below was taken in 1990 when I was 30, at the end of residency and living in Denver. I look like I am going to the rodeo.
5. My job involves straddling a stool and climbing stairs – straight skirts are on the banned list.
6. I have two teenage daughters who love to criticize most of my clothes.
7. I am officially middle-aged. If I find a piece of clothing that is part of a new trend, I question if a 50+ woman should be allowed to wear it.
8. My work schedule can involve 10-12 hour days. What is comfortable at 10 am may not feel so great around 7 pm.
9. I still carry a beeper (cell phones not reliable within the walls of a hospital). That means you need a waistband to attach it to.
10. I HATE SCRUBS. This is probably a result of wearing them continuously for 4 years during residency. So unless I am in the OR or delivering a baby, I like to wear “real” clothes.
To solve some of these fashion dilemmas I have recently joined Stitch Fix, an online stylist service that shops for you once you provide them with a few guidelines. It is inexpensive, charging a $20 styling fee that is credited to your final purchase. It gets me out of a rut and dramatically saves time. I have shopped with my teen daughters a few times, paying more attention to what is the current “in” trend. And while first impressions by patients may be superficial, they will always exist and I am hoping to build on them in a positive manner.
25 years later – fashion is much improved and perms are out. Getting older can sometimes be for the better!