Dissecting the healthcare dress code: Why professional appearances and behaviors matter

I recently read an article from Health Leaders entitled, Underwear, Tattoos and Patient Safety. This article really hit home with me because it is discussing dress code, appearances and how we should or shouldn’t look when we deliver patient care. For any organization, defining the dress code is not an easy task and having been involved in this discussion more than once, I know there is a fine line between allowing people who work in our organizations to express themselves, while still enforcing a professional dress code.

When I consider all the angles associated with a dress code and our appearance, I like to focus on the patient and what is best for them. Working in healthcare, we have the privilege to provide care to patients and their families. Patients and families often come to us at their most vulnerable times. Sometimes, the occasion is happy like in the case where a couple is about to become new parents. More often, the reason for a patient’s visit is stressful and anxiety producing. It is our job to be competent and instill confidence in those who seek out our care and ultimately help put them at ease. Looking professional is one way healthcare workers can instill confidence in our patients and their families. Even new parents want to feel confident that they are in, capable and professional hands.

The article also discusses patient safety and uses the example of a new tattoo and how long they actually take to heal. The reality is, new tattoos are a patient safety concern because they can be a vehicle for spreading infection. Artificial nails are another battle that I have fought on numerous occasions over the years. No one gets up in the morning and decides to go give a patient an infection, but these are serious issues we must keep in mind when we are making choices about how we present for the very important job of delivering patient care.

Along with professional appearance is our professional behavior. We must also be mindful of our conversations and who may be able to hear us. Often times, an innocent conversation about the holiday party is seen by the patient and family as the healthcare workers not taking their job or their patients seriously. Remember, when people are anxious and afraid, emotions are heightened. Your patients need to feel important to you and need to know you care about them.

I encourage each of us to think about how we present ourselves and how that affects our image as well as the image of the organization we work in. Looking and acting professional goes a long way with establishing rapport with the patient and family, building confidence and helping those in our care, reduce stress and anxiety.

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About the Author

Janie Schumaker

Janie Schumaker drives the development of T-System solutions that improve clinical quality and patient outcomes. Janie uses her expertise to recommend clinical and industry best practices that help clinicians deliver better, more efficient care in the busy and evolving unscheduled care continuum. She is a prolific speaker, writer and advocate for nurse leadership, patient care, regulatory guidelines and clinical quality.

One Comment

  1. Janie, I love your article here! I feel vindicated for what I was trying to do @ TMC to elevate the image of Nursing and the Nurses, themselves.

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