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Dress the part


If you want to be treated like a doctor, you need to dress like one. No, flip-flops aren't acceptable.

On my latest trip, I was walking to my next destination when a stranger wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian T-shirt stopped me to ask the time. “Two fifty-five,” I said, and if I had been in Venice Beach or Key West this would be the most uneventful story you've heard in awhile. Instead, I was at a veterinary conference, and the person was a colleague. The only way I could tell was by his name badge, barely visible below his untucked shirt with a sailboat print.

I've been in the profession for just over two years and have only been to a few conferences. Yet it appears the speakers are usually dressed up, which suggests they take their professional role seriously. As I glance at the crowd of attendees, I occasionally see dress pants, ties, blouses, and skirts. More often I feel like I'm at a Jimmy Buffet concert. More people dress like they're on vacation rather than at a professional meeting. This raises the question: Is your continuing education work or play?

Work, I say. My employer pays for the trip, I learn material I can take back to my practice to share with colleagues and enhance performance, and I don't get much of a tan in those conference rooms. And I figure that if attending a conference is work, the people attending should be dressed accordingly.

What does plaid say?

The problem: The spectrum for dress in our profession is broader than the range of microbes in a dog's mouth. At some practices, ties and starched shirts are required; at others scrubs are the norm.

Sure, scrubs are more comfortable and get you out the door faster in the morning. But do they make you stand out in the hospital as the one who knows how to diagnose hyperadrenocorticism? Does a flannel shirt give confidence to an owner who's paying a $900 bill?

Veterinarians want to be treated with the same respect as human medical doctors and dentists. We take the same courses, we take out exorbitant loans to pay our tuition, and we continue to enhance our knowledge through research and discussion. But we must dress the part.

At conferences it's nice to know the person across the hall is a colleague without having to look at an ID tag. At work, it's good for the client to know that you're the doctor even if you're caught with your white coat off. A dress shirt indicates that you went to school for eight years; a golf shirt indicates that you'd rather spend your eight-hour day on the course avoiding sand traps.

At the end of the day, professional dress creates professional morale that will reverberate with your colleagues and clients. And that, I believe, will lead to better medicine and economics for the practice.

A shoeshine is never wrong

I'm not asking for Armani suits here. A button-down shirt and a tie, some nice khakis or dress slacks, and a pair of brown or black shoes that cover the entire foot would show thoughtful consideration for our profession.

I have a tie—a gift from my mother—with a yellow Labrador print, which always inspires comments from clients who own the popular breed. Women's dress is more complicated, of course. So, for all you female colleagues, well, I guess I have to refer you to Diane Sawyer.

Dr. W. Andrew Rollo is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and an associate at Gibraltar Veterinary Hospital in Gibraltar, Mich.

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