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Do You Care What Doctors and Nurses Wear at Work?

If you are like most people, you have a certain image in your mind of what a doctor or nurse looks like. You recognize doctors and nurses based on how they dress for work. But does their workplace dress really matter to you? Do you want to see doctors and nurses wearing a particular type of clothing?

The question of doctor and nurse uniforms garnered some surprising results in a study published by BMJ Open in 2018. Things may have changed in 2020 thanks to the coronavirus crisis, but the smart money says that people still base their impressions of healthcare professionals on how those professionals dress for work.

Scrubs and White Lab Coats

The study in question, conducted across 10 major medical centers between 2015 and 2016, surveyed more than 4,000 patients about their preferences regarding healthcare uniforms. Patients were shown photographs of both male and female physicians in various uniforms. They were asked to imagine the physicians in both clinical and outpatient settings. Then they were asked to rate the individuals depicted in each photo for the following characteristics:

  • Knowledge
  • Trustworthiness
  • Caring ability
  • Approachability
  • Personal comfort.

Each of the pictures depicted one of four basic uniform categories: casual, scrubs, formal, and business attire. Researchers discovered that the majority of patients were influenced in their perceptions by what the doctors were wearing.

Formal attire paired with a white lab coat received the highest composite score. That particular uniform scored especially well among older patients. In second place was a uniform consisting of scrubs and a white lab coat. Third was formal attire without the lab coat.

Different Uniforms for Different Jobs

The survey also revealed that patients have opinions about the relationship between uniforms and jobs. For example, the formal attire and white lab coat uniform was perceived as the best choice for physicians working in an outpatient setting. But scrubs alone was the best choice for surgeons.

Patients showed a preference for doctors wearing white lab coats in primary care offices and during visits to hospital patient rooms. However, those same patients did not see a need for white lab coats in an emergency room setting. Scrubs alone were perfectly acceptable.

Uniforms in the Coronavirus Era

The aforementioned study was conducted long before coronavirus was an issue. That being said, it would be interesting to go back and repeat the survey now. Would it reveal any differences based on patient fears of coronavirus? We may never know.

The one thing we do know is that past studies have shown that certain kinds of healthcare uniforms could potentially spread germs. For example, long sleeves can be a harbinger of all sorts of pathogens that could potentially be transferred from one patient to another. Hospitals are beginning to recommend against long sleeves for that very reason.

There is also the question of whether or not healthcare professionals should wear their uniforms outside of work. While there is no conclusive proof that stopping at a store in one’s hospital scrubs, for example, contributes to the spread of coronavirus, that does not stop people from being afraid of the possibility.

One potential solution is to rent hospital scrubs from providers like Salt Lake City-based Alsco. Combining rental with professional laundering eliminates the need for healthcare workers to wear uniforms to and from work.

It is clear that patients have certain expectations when it comes to how doctors and nurses dress on the job. But those expectations evolve over time. Who knows what the hospital uniform will look like 100 years from now?

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