Dr. Miller unravels an interns objections to the clinic dress code.
Half a century ago, we had a dress code in our multidoctor mixed practice. Neat, clean coveralls were required for large animal house calls, and in the hospital, men wore slacks, dress shirts and ties with their lab coats. Women dressed just as conservatively (yes-we had women on our staff 50 years ago!).
Shorts and sneakers: Symbols of sacrifice
Our practice recruited young interns from veterinary schools around the country and around the world. I was on field emergency duty one Sunday when I stopped by our hospital to replenish some supplies. I noticed that our intern, who was on emergency hospital duty, was seeing a patient. He was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and tennis shoes.
I waited until the client left with her dog before reprimanding the young doctor.
“Bob,” I said, “you know we have a dress code in our practice for all doctors on duty.”
“Yes,” he responded, “but it's Sunday and I want the client to understand that we offer weekend emergency service at some personal inconvenience, so when she sees me dressed this way she'll appreciate it all the more.”
“I understand that,” I conceded. “However, there is a reason why we require a professional appearance, which begins with the way you dress.”
Cracking the (dress) code
“We are in Southern California, and our clientele is very diverse,” I continued. “It includes farmers and ranchers, laborers and immigrants, hippies and retirees, young and old. While young people may be unfazed by your appearance, the older folks expect a professional to look like a professional. Both extremes of the clientele spectrum will accept a conservatively dressed doctor, but the older group may lose confidence in a young doctor seeing patients in shorts and sneakers. Do you know why that is?”
Doctor Bob frowned while thinking for a moment. “Is it because older people are stuck in their ways and less open-minded?” he offered.
“No!” I exclaimed. “Health is a serious matter, and these people expect their doctor, whether for a human or for a pet, to speak, act and dress in a manner that is congruent with the gravity of the topic. A disheveled, lazy appearance may cause your client to question your knowledge, authority or care.”
Prefer shorts to slacks? Urine for a surprise
Bob pondered my explanation before pointing at me and saying, “Gotcha! I'll know better next time!”
“Besides,” I said, “sooner or later a dog is going to pee on your leg, and when it happens, you don't want to be wearing shorts.”
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmiller.com.