In an era that is becoming increasingly casual, does what you choose to wear for work make a difference?

Back in the early 1900’s, uniforms in the healthcare industry were essentially derived from the nun’s habit. While styles have changed over the years, the ‘psychology of the uniform’ and it’s importance in the healthcare workplace industry has remained intact. This is especially true as the industry is so diverse and roles so varied that the way you dress can mean the difference in a patient’s confidence in you and your practice and its services.

The main function of the uniform is to easily distinguish a particular group from the larger whole. It makes social interactions easier and allows you to swiftly move on from that initial interaction to something of more importance. Research over the years has shown that dress code has a strong influence on people’s perceptions of an individual’s personality as well as their capability.

Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire says this about uniforms. “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning. It’s the reason why we feel fitter in our sports clothes, or more professional in work wear”.

Your alertness is also affected by what you wear. A study found that people wearing a doctor’s lab coat displayed heightened attention. “This theory supports the notion that we would stay more focused when wearing work clothes, and may be more cognitively alert than if we dressed down,” adds Dr. Pine.

While acknowledging that yes, dress code is important, the challenge is keeping up with today’s modern outlook and allowing people at work to express themselves while still keeping a professional balance. Many organisations struggle to define this. These days it’s a little difficult to distinguish staff in their different roles because everyone is wearing scrubs in a variety of colours. Or even clothes of different levels of formality and professionalism in non-hospital practices.

The last thing a patient wants to feel when they walk into a healthcare environment is confusion.  So having a very distinct uniform code helps to enable a patient to feel secure and confident that they are in the care of an organised, professional team.

‘Fashion’ and ‘psychology’ aside, there are many practical reasons for wearing scrubs. For example, because of their solid colour it is very easy to identify potential contaminants. They also protect patients from infections. Uniforms for non-medical staff helps patients identify who they can approach to ask important administrative questions,.

Ultimately, focusing on what makes a patient feel comfortable should always come first. Patients and families in a healthcare environment are often at their most vulnerable during these times. It is important to put them at ease. Looking professional is one way that can be done. It also goes a long way with building a rapport.

Whether in an office, practice or a hospital, the fact is, what you wear to work changes how people view you and it also has an effect on how you view yourself.

Surveys are conducted every year asking the general public what they think about uniforms and every year it is the same answer.  Dress code DOES matter.

So are doctors, nurses and medical assistants destined to wear scrubs, lab coats and uniforms every day? It looks like it…

To find the workplace that suits you best, search for medical and healthcare roles in Australia at HealthcareLink.