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Should doctors wear business attire or medical scrubs rather than casual dress to inspire confidence?

scrubs1Hippocrates, the fount and origin of modern medicine, thought doctors should be “clean in person, well-dressed, and anointed with sweet-smelling unguents,” but there has been debate about what dress is appropriate for physicians to wear in these more casual days. An obvious point is that doctors are members of a profession and that professional attire as well as professional conduct is expected. When I was a professor of logic and philosophy in the US, I dressed casually on campus, like a student indeed, but I never appeared before a class without a shirt and tie. On hot days I would sometimes take my jacket off while teaching. It puts students in the right mode if the teacher dresses properly.

Another factor in medicine is the possible health issue, with clothes perceived to be a possible source for the transmission of infection. Some years back government guidelines banned dangling ties, long sleeves and wristwatches, although there doesn’t seem to be hard evidence linking these items with infections. A desire to avoid the dangling tie is one reason many surgeons opt for bow ties. As I can testify, they are easier to keep clean!

Treatment is often more effective if the patient believes in it and trusts the doctor, so there is an added reason to look the part. In polls people preferred the traditional white-coat look, with scrubs (the v-necked green/grey top and pants worn by medical staff) and business attire coming after that and casual dress some way behind. As a patient my own preference is for scrubs or a starched white jacket. They seem to go with the activity.

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