Should Doctors Dress to Please Their Patients?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

“Perhaps the speaker refused to answer your question because you’re young.”

My jaw dropped when the product manager offered that explanation. We were in a symposium and the European speaker her company invited had just answered my question in a vague, roundabout way. When I asked the product manager why the speaker behaved the way he did, I never expected her to answer the way she did!

I thought at first, maybe the speaker didn’t know the answer. However, a few minutes after I asked my question, another doctor – this time, an older male – repeated my query.

Surprise, surprise: The speaker was more than happy to answer in detail.

I bristled in my seat. Any other day, I would have smiled at the thought of being called young. But that day, I didn’t appreciate the apologist way the speaker’s behavior was rationalized by the product manager. After all, I will be forty in a few years, making me about a decade older than most of the doctors in the room.

I wondered, did the foreign doctor shrug me off because I was the only female who dared to speak? Or was there another reason?

Half-convinced that he was a chauvinist, I believed there was nothing I could have done to make him treat me differently. Then again, fate had a way of proving me wrong when I least expected it.

The very next day, I attended a post-graduate conference that gave me the epiphany of a lifetime: That exasperating man might have treated me the same way he did the other doctors… if only I wore a different outfit.

Dressing the Part: How a Doctor’s Attire Affects the Patient

Wait, what? That’s ridiculous, you might think. Did what I had to wear (which was appropriate – you can take my word for it) influence the speaker more than what I had to say?

The simple answer is yes.

Manila Doctors Hospital post grad course“[…] Judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book – even after reading it,” said Dr. Geraldine Racaza, quoting a psychologist from Cornell University.

Dr Racaza talked about how doctors could dress to impress, addressing the Internal Medicine residents of Manila Doctors Hospital during the second day of the post-graduate course held at Diamond Hotel from June 18 to 19, 2015.

Here’s how doctors can dress to impress. Whether you like fashion or not, it doesn’t matter – using your daily attire to improve your relationship with your patients is simply smart thinking.

Should doctors dress for patients or for themselves?

“How you are perceived by your patient matters. It could mean the difference between getting them to cooperate with your professional advice or not,” concluded Dr. Racaza, quoting her cousin, fashionista-slash-editor Sarah Meier.

I will keep hoping that one day, I won’t get judged based on superficial perceptions. It sucks that “looking young” can be a bad thing! But I’m a fool if I were to pay little attention to what I wear simply because it’s a superficial way of making an impression.

Having said that, I believe a disclaimer is apropos. Who you truly are should not shrink away simply because you are trying to improve other people’s perception of you.

“What matters most is what's inside our brains and hearts.” Now, if only that’s something I could tell the speaker who shrugged me off! Then again, I might have been better off if I had judged him based on his pompous, outdated suit.

If you’re a doctor, here’s how you can dress to improve your relationship with others.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She maintains a health column in Health.Care Magazine and contributes to The Manila Bulletin. Add her to your circles.