How Patients Want Doctors to Look

November 3, 2016

In medicine, regardless of who your employer is, your patient is your real boss. That means you have to make sure your boss is happy. Did you know that patients have a preference in terms of physician appearance, presentation, and attire?

If you are a physician working in a patient care setting, you have a lot of things on your mind, the most important of which is your patients’ health. In medicine, regardless of who your employer is, your patient is your real boss. That means you have to make sure your boss is happy. Of course, taking good care of your patients' health is the number one priority in medicine. But, did you know that patients have a preference in terms of physician appearance, presentation, and attire? From what clothes they want their doctors to wear to whether or not they like their physicians to wear nametags; patients display a fairly consistent preference when it comes to the physician uniform.

How patients want their physicians to dress

A number of research studies have examined how patients want their doctors to dress. Overall, the majority of patients (70%) prefer that physicians dress in formal attire and wear white coats. The second choice for preferred style of dress is semi formal attire. Patients often reported they wanted their procedural doctors to wear scrubs.

Patients preferred that their physicians wear conservative clothes, with long sleeves being the favorite. Most patients were not comfortable if their male doctors had any piercings and they were not comfortable with face piercings on either their male or their female doctors.

Patients have a partiality based on physician facial expression

Most patients preferred doctors who smiled. Overall, patients had a neutral opinion of doctors who wore a serious facial expression. While patients prefer a doctor who smiles to a doctor with a serious expression, most patients have less trust in a physician who smiles or laughs too much.

The doctor’s name

Patients preferred that doctors introduce themselves by first and last name, and also felt more comfortable when their doctors wore a clearly visible nametag.

Appearance of male vs. female doctors

The overall patient preferences in terms of their physicians’ style of dress were the same for male and female doctors. Patients dislike a distracting physician appearance. This includes a discomfort with unusual clothes, overly bright colors, large jewelry, or a style of dress that seemed dressy rather than formal.

Why do patients prefer a certain physician appearance?

There are a number of simple reasons that explain the patient partiality when it comes to physician attire, appearance and mannerisms. Most of the time, older patients were more likely to have strong preferences when it came to physician appearances, and younger patients were more forgiving and flexible of their doctors' appearance. But the opinions of patients of all ages, genders and backgrounds leaned in the same direction.

Attire can establish clear roles.

When a physician wears a white coat and a nametag that clearly says: Dr. First Name, Last Name, patients do not have to decipher who is in charge of the medical aspects of their care. Patients go to the doctor to get a problem taken care of, and therefore clear roles take the guesswork out of who is doing what, making the process easier and less confusing for patients.

Formal attire signals that a doctor took time and care in preparing for work.

A doctor who takes time and devotes attention to dressing appropriately signals that he or she takes the job seriously. A doctor who is dressed professionally appears to have dressed specifically to go to work. He or she comes across as less rushed and more dedicated to the workday, not as if he or she is stopping by the office after a bike ride or on the way to running errands.

Professional attire makes patients feel respected

Patients appreciate respect and want to feel that their physician cares enough about the patient’s opinion to look professional for them.

Patients want an unflustered physician

Most patients surveyed prefer a doctor who is competent to a doctor who is nice. However, a smile does not necessarily signal that you want to be best buddies with your patient. A smile signals that you are relaxed and confident and that your patient's medical situation is not overwhelming you. Patients like to feel that you know what you are doing when you are caring for their health.

Patients prefer doctors who are not too concerned about appearance.

A doctor who seems to be very focused on him or herself may come across as self-centered, and potentially less attentive to the patient. Patients are facing health matters that are of great concern to their own lives. Thus, patients want to rely on a physician who is devoted to the patients’ health, not on a physician who appears excessively focused on his or her appearance or image.

Does it matter what your patients think of your appearance?

Of course, people should respect you for who you are on the inside, and not for what you look like on the outside. A physician with face piercings and a graphic T-shirt can indeed be competent and smart. But, given patients’ stressful situations in dealing with potentially serious medical issues, a medical visit is not the best time to teach a lesson about how looks can be deceiving.

A physician who presents himself or herself in a way that patients prefer makes patients more relaxed and gives patients a feeling that they are in good hands.