Article Date: 11/1/2008

Dress to Impress
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Dress to Impress

If you're seeing patients, why are you dressed for a barbecue?

STEVEN R. STANEK, O.D., SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

Dressing well proved fatal for 1920's Chicago optometrist Reinhardt Schwimmer. The young O.D. hung around the infamous North Side Mob, which included the well-dressed and heavy-set George Clarence "Bugs" Moran — to whom Schwimmer bore a striking resemblance. In fact, many historians say that Al Capone's men mistook Schwimmer for the dapper Moran during the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. There's little danger of that happening today — increasingly optometrists are dressing like bums.


ILLUSTRATION BY LAEL HENDERSON

Patient trust and self-esteem

In the early 1980s, while I was a student at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, soft contact lens pioneer, Robert Morrison, O.D., guest lectured to my class and cited a survey, which revealed that the public most trusted men who wore a "clean, white-pressed shirt." Thus, he always wore one, with a tie in practice.

A much older colleague of mine complained that when he attended optometry school, his instructor made him don his clinic jacket prior to phoning a patient. Extreme? Probably. Still, many have argued that your clothing can influence your actions. I submit that dressing well is the professional's uniform.

Self-help author Caroline Myss notes that a uniform is essentially instant self-esteem and authority.

Fashion revolutionaries

If you ask British-side Revolutionary war re-enactors why they choose to emulate the enemy, many say it's because the British uniforms look better than the Patriot uniforms. They've got a point. The crimson "redcoats" and white pants are a lot sharper looking than the Patriot's navy blue garb. Still, who would've thought one would choose the losing side simply due to the uniform's appearance?

Pass the ketchup

In my 25-year career, I've seen a broad shift in my colleagues attire. When I graduated, about half the continuing education (CE) attendees wore a coat and tie or a skirt or dress. Now, they attend CE conferences and trade shows dressed for a barbeque. I cringe when I think they may appear to patients dressed this way. I know, I know … in today's hyper-politically correct environment, you're not supposed to judge people by appearance. But, the truth is perception is important. Consider this:

In Washington DC, you witness a man in an expensive-looking suit jaywalking. Most likely, your perception is: "He must be a senator running late to cast a vote." You see another man in ripped denim and a frayed t-shirt jaywalking. Your perception is most likely: "That bum's got nothing but time on his hands, and he's too lazy to cross at the corner." Both individuals behaved the same exact way, yet their outfits dictated your perception of their actions.

Perhaps the dot.com craze is partly to blame for the demise of professional attire. It started with casual Fridays and then mushroomed to casual every day. However, because we interact with patients every day, rather than spend all or most of our time in isolation at a computer, causal "every day" doesn't apply to us.

My suggestion: Make a little effort to dress well. Save the golf shirt for the golf course and the sleeveless blouse for the beach. I guarantee dressing professionally will pay off in ways you never imagined. Just don't hang around gangsters. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2008