By Erika Schwartz, MD
“Dress for success. The clothes make the man. You are what you wear. Dress like a slob, work like a slob. Be clean in person, well-dressed.” – Hippocrates (loosely translated)
It seems ironic that the “Father of Medicine” would address how physicians dress. However, it is a necessary consideration and unfortunately, all too often overlooked in my profession.
Too many doctors are still stuck in the old days when wearing the white coat with the stethoscope around your neck determined who you are. Today, outside the hospital and surgical suite, people in doctors’ offices and academic institutions react to a physician’s looks and dress more than you think.
My long experience in medicine has taught me that properly attired doctors – in good physical shape, with a clean and neat presentation – command more respect than slobs.
Patients in fact do better in the offices of a well-dressed, trim and good-looking doctor, listening to his or her advice more.
Working in New York City has taught me the importance of practicing what you preach. I specialize in prevention and wellness, helping my patients to stay forever young and healthy. My knowledge of hormones, diet, exercise, lifestyle, sleep and stress management may well be part of why my patients do so well. But I’m willing to wager they also do well because out of respect for them, I dress well and make sure I walk the walk.
When I was working in Irvington, my old mentor – Dr. Mario Dolan, may he rest in peace – used to tell me about my “propensity to dress too well, or even look too well for a doctor.
“Don’t dress so well,” he cautioned. “Patients will think they are paying for your clothes or your rent or your car, so keep yourself looking modest.”
While I did take many of the other little snippets he taught me to heart, I didn’t take this one. I never dressed to show off. I dressed nicely to make my patients feel good, out of respect and love for my patients and self-respect and the desire to be a role model. (Also, I am a clotheshorse.)
I do believe that if you dress nicely, you feel better, your attitude is better and the energy around you is better. I also believe that my patients appreciate my dressing for them.
The relationship between my female patients and myself in particular is strengthened by our often lively and exciting conversation about our clothes, and I do believe without a doubt the confidence levels between me and my patients do run higher, because we can talk about clothes along with very personal issues.
To us, women’s clothes are very important and if our doctor can share in that particular space with us, she can probably become even closer than the average doctor. She may even become a friend.
In medical school, no one teaches you how to dress. In fact, pretty much everyone dresses down and in the clinics where we take care of the needy and underprivileged, wearing a Chanel suit could be inappropriate and insensitive.
But that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about self-care.
One more thought: With the development of reality TV and doctor-filled media, how you dress as a physician definitely determines if a show’s producer brings you back or not. It may be superficial, but it’s a fact and we should all know this. We’re in 2013, after all.
So there: Fashion fits in perfectly with being healthy, developing a rapport with your doctor – and enjoying a trip to the mall.
For more information, email Dr. Erika at Erika@drerika.com.