December 3, 2022

Does dress matter in medicine?

An ongoing debate amongst physicians has broken into academic discourse – should doctors dress formally for clinical practice?

An ongoing debate amongst physicians has broken into academic discourse – should doctors dress formally for clinical practice?

Microbiologist Stephanie Dancer says ‘yes’.  In an article in the British Medical Journal Dancer asserts that  ‘dressing down’ diminishes the dignitas of the medical profession and could be see as an indication of carelessness: 

“Doctors are members of a distinguished profession and should dress accordingly. Untidiness erodes the image of doctors as responsible and competent…[it] might be taken as a flashing neon sign that says “I don’t care.”

Dancer also claims that scruffy dress could contribute to low hygiene standards in hospitals: “scruffiness, however defined, also intimates a lack of personal hygiene and correspondingly lower standards of hygienic behavior.”

Two Manchester University medical ethicists, Cesar Palacios-Gonzalez and David R Lawrence, have written a scathing critique of Dancer’s claims. Gonzalez and Lawrence assert that scruffy dress has no effect on the ‘intrinsic dignity’ of the medical profession:

“doctors’ attire has no bearing on the inherent dignitas of the medical profession. Even where the doctor’s appearance is, for whatever reason disagreeable to the patient, this does not change the value of the medical intervention to the health of that patient…To state otherwise would be the same as to state that the value of a doctor’s medical practice fluctuates with each patients’ perception of the physicians’ attire.”

They argue on libertarian grounds that doctors should be allowed to dress how they wish.

They also contest Dancer’s claim that casual dress contributes to poor hygiene. Even if particular kinds of casual clothes lead to infection, “this would not mean that there is a case against scruffiness in general; but it would mean that doctors should refrain from using certain types of fabrics in regard for their patients’ safety”. 

Academics argue over how doctors should dress in practice
Xavier Symons
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clinical practice
professional standards