The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Sunday, 13 December 2015

DOES IT MATTER WHAT DOCTORS WEAR?

When I see my GP, she wears a long formal black dress, kitten heels and hair in a ponytail, almost no make up. She looks presentable, approachable and very professional. However, I can't help but think that the rapport I have with her would be affected if she didn't dress as smartly. 

The medical school I attend has introduced a uniform for my year to wear whilst working in hospital and during all clinical training sessions. It is currently a grey scrub top, and written on the back in capital letters it says 'MEDICAL STUDENT'. There are no scrub trousers, so we are obliged to wear smart dark trousers and smart shoes. We are literally half in scrubs, half in formal. The reception to this has been very negative, both from the students and the consultants we shadow. No other year has to wear them, we are the so-called guinea pigs. Currently the uniform is being redesigned, so that we will wear full charcoal grey scrubs and comfy smart black or white trainers.

What do people expect doctors, medical students and other health professionals to wear? As much as I love dressing up, I don't think fashion has any importance in the attire. I would say that different members of staff need to be clearly identifiable, smart and above all practical. I think all NHS trusts have the 'bare below the elbows' policy, in order to reduce infection risk. Doctors don't need to look 'better' than other staff members, but I have seen lots of patients getting confused with who is treating them, largely based on what they are wearing. I have had many patients introduce me to their family as a nurse, because currently my uniform is incredibly similar to the other nurses' uniform. And whilst that's not a problem in my eyes, it isn't good for the patient. The reason why it isn't good is that the patient needs to know from the beginning that I am a student, I am not yet a qualified healthcare professional. And despite me introducing myself as a medical student every single time I meet a patient, clearly the uniform isn't helping me to illustrate that.

Back in the day, doctors were famous for their white lab coats. These were scrapped largely due to infection control. So, from a hygiene point of view, doctors need to have hair tied back, no nail polish, rings removed, practical shoes that cover the top surface of the feet (preventing needle-stick injury) and bare below the elbow. However, you will notice that there is so much variation in what doctors wear nowadays: FY1s wear purple scrubs and trainers in all kinds of colours, A&E doctors wear scrubs too, surgeons wear scrubs during theatre and full suits during clinics, consultants wear plain shirts and trousers and brogues and GPs wear pencil dresses, and the shirts tend to be more creased (at least in my experience). 

Hygiene and practicality aside, I know that it shouldn't matter what a doctor wears to work. But we do make judgements on people because of how they look. Someone who 'looks the part' can give a patient much more confidence in their physician. Doctors who wear jeans just look like they shouldn't really be there, like they've been rushed in from home. 

I think the new full scrubs in charcoal grey could work as then we won't look too similar to any other healthcare professional. It's comfy, practical and saves time in the morning. I think patients will still confuse me perhaps for a nurse, partly because I'm a girl. Or maybe a surgeon  or anaesthetist because normally those are the staff you usually associate with scrubs.

What do you think a doctor should wear to work?
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1 comment

  1. I quite like the smart-casual attire that seems acceptable here in Bristol for junior doctors and medical students - but the big disadvantage is that doctors and medical students look identical! They have introduced 'medical student' lanyards which is a good idea (although I don't have one), because it makes it obvious to patients and staff who we are - and stops us being mistaken for someone who knows what they're doing!
    I certainly felt GP was a bit more relaxed, especially from infection control point of view - there was more jewellery and long sleeves. I also did a community psychiatry placement which was still more casual, probably a good thing from the point of view of patients not wanting other people to see doctors on their doorstep.
    Overall, I like being able to choose my own clothes, but wouldn't dismiss having a uniform to identify me as a doctor.
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog

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