Do clothes make the medical man or woman? Recent debate in the UK has led an Avant Medical Advisor to ask just what is appropriate attire for junior doctors.
Director of Emergency: “I am unhappy with the dress standards of doctors in this department. There will be no denim and all tops must have collars.”
Resident doctor: “Great, now I get to wear my rugby jersey to work.”
Not too long ago, junior doctors received a public dressing down in the British press for their casual work attire. The British Medical Journal1joined the debate with an article on ‘scruffy doctors’, who the author believes have been increasingly letting the side down since the UK Department of Health banned ties in 2007.
Jeans might work at a party or barbecue, but do they impart a sense of professionalism? Then again, how could a never-washed tie that is dipped repeatedly into patients – a culture medium – be considered preferable to no tie at all?
Whilst the white coat has largely disappeared, it remains desirable for doctors to look professional. Guidelines published by the Medical Board of Australia2 state that doctors should base their practice on professional values, and that they should be trustworthy. Not only is this achieved through demeanour and hopefully a display of knowledge, it is also demonstrated by how a doctor chooses to dress.
Complying with dress codes
Employers can require compliance with a reasonable dress code. It would be considered reasonable if it addressed standards of presentation to patients, or if it was required to maintain proper hygiene standards.
Ideally, dress requirements should be made clear to an employee prior to commencing in a role, unless safety requirements subsequently change.3 However, employers cannot discriminate. For example, they cannot ask men to remove earrings when women in the same workplace are allowed to wear them.4
A case study
An Avant member has been the subject of a complaint in relation to dress and infection. It was alleged that that during a joint injection, the doctor’s dirty, furry blue coat sleeve touched the sterile field, resulting in septic arthritis.
The complaint was answered by the doctor, who advised that he had never owned a furry or blue coat.
Patients who complain about their doctors will often list multiple reasons as to why they are unhappy. If they perceive a doctor to be dressed inappropriately or wearing unclean clothes (including a grubby tie!) they will use this to paint a picture of unprofessionalism. This is especially so if the patient is unable to identify who the doctor was by name and can only give a physical description.
Do you think work attire is an issue for young doctors? Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Dancer SJ, ‘Put your ties back on: scruffy doctors damage our reputation and indicate a decline in hygiene’, BMJ (2013) Jun 13; 346.
“Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia”, Medical Board of Australia (2010)
Bishop v Incitec Pivot Pty Ltd  FWA 8289 (1 December 2011).
Bree v Lupevo Pty Ltd  NSWADT 47 (11 March 2003).
2.“Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia”, Medical Board of Australia (2010)
3. Bishop v Incitec Pivot Pty Ltd  FWA 8289 (1 December 2011).
4. Bree v Lupevo Pty Ltd  NSWADT 47 (11 March 2003).
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