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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor November 21, 2007 - Tip #304 
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Uniforms Help Create Your Practice Image

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Additional Information

I think it's smart management for a practice to supply uniforms as an employee benefit. I know it's a significant expense to do it right, but I see uniforms as an investment in the practice image and the return is excellent. Cutting costs is a short term strategy that can result in a downward cycle of reduced service, which usually results in less spending per patient and fewer referrals, which may create the need for more cost-cutting. It's a bad cycle. Spending money on the right things in the practice stimulates employee morale and customer service improves. An upward cycle is created. Great looking outfits create a feeling of confidence and pride among employees that is perceived by patients.

The alternative to making uniforms a benefit is to allow staff to wear what they want within some kind of dress code or to specify a uniform and require staff to purchase it. In either case, the practice loses some control over the appearance, the quality and the condition of the clothing.

What style is best?

The choice of uniform style is really a matter of personal taste and is up to the practice owner. There is really no right or wrong. Well, I guess there are some wrongs, but hopefully you'll know them when you see them. Much depends on the desired image of the practice, which can vary from chic optical boutique to medical practice to economical big box store. You may have to try a few different looks before you settle on the right one.

Staff members generally have very strong opinions about uniforms and it's unlikely that you can completely please everyone and yourself, but it's still smart to listen to employee preferences. Meet with your staff and discuss the issues with the preface that everyone will have to compromise to some degree. Realize that people are naturally sensitive about how they look in clothing and may not want to share personal aspects about their bodies, so be considerate and patient. The practice owner should have the final decision about uniforms because the practice image is at stake.

The little details

Ordering uniforms is not for the faint of heart. Be forearmed with the following tips:
  • Many uniforms that offer a bit more style do not come in a wide range of sizes. Some practices need uniforms from very small to very large. Know your size range as you begin to search.
  • Buy a test sample of the uniform and have staff members try it on and then wash it to see how it looks after washing. You may need a few sizes.
  • Choose a company that's easy to return products to. JC Penny catalog is very easy to work with and you can have things delivered and returned via UPS. We also use a local uniform shop and have good results with the Cherokee brand. Many styles are viewable online.
  • I like to see the practice name and logo embroidered or screened on the breast of the shirt or jacket.
  • Realize that if you supply a set of uniforms every six months, many employees will wash the items 26 times. Many clothing items begin to look shabby after that many washes. I think twice per year is about right.
  • Employees need enough tops since no one washes clothes every day. A good uniform set is five tops, two pants and one lab coat or smock.
  • You might want to have a summer look and a winter look, with short and long sleeved tops.
  • It's smart to include a smock or jacket in the uniform set or allow personal cardigan sweaters, because personal temperature preferences vary among individuals. You want employees to be comfortable and not argue over the office thermostat setting.
  • To promote a team look, consider having all staff members wear the same color on specific days of the week (Monday is blue, Tuesday is green, etc.). Or, have just one color scheme with slight variations so people can wear various combinations and still coordinate.
  • Some practice owners prefer their eyewear fashion stylists to wear fashionable clothing instead of the clinical uniform. This is personal choice based on the goals of the practice. You may wish to provide a uniform allowance to these individuals equal to the typical uniform cost.
  • Consider requiring all departing employees to return all uniforms at termination of employment. They are the property of the practice. After washing, this collection can provide an interim set of uniforms for new employees to wear during a probationary period and until new uniforms can be ordered.
  • Some practices have staff wear shirts and pants from retail stores, such as polo shirts and khaki pants, or blouses/shirts with black slacks. You could use a store at the local mall or mail order... Talbot's, Land's End, The Gap and J. Crew are some options.
  • Shoes are always a sensitive issue. The practice may want to define the shoe style and have employees responsible for buying their own shoes. Simple white athletic shoes (no colors or stripes) work well with standard health care uniforms.
  • Ask about stock availability and backorders before placing a large order.
  • Start the process early and plan ahead. Refine the choices as you go forward.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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