Article Date: 7/1/2006

business advisor
Do You Look Like a Doctor?
Despite what you may see, appearances really do matter.
JERRY HAYES, O.D.

In this era of an increasingly casual attitude toward business attire, I see a disturbing trend among private-practice optometrists. We're dressing down too much in the office.

Practice management experts spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to have an up- to-date, well-maintained and attractive office in order to make the proper impression on patients. But we generally don't talk much about how doctors should look. However, your appearance greatly affects how patients feel about you.

Case in point

I was recently referred to the Mayo Clinic in my hometown of Jacksonville, for a retinal exam. With all due respect, there is no optometric practice in the world with a better reputation or more impressive physical facility than Mayo. Considering the brand equity and aura of expertise that preceded his entrance, it would have been very disconcerting if my retinal specialist came in wearing a golf shirt.

He wore a suit and tie. His appearance fit the situation and I was impressed. And there is a reason for that. In his recent book, "Blink," (a title any optometrist could love) author Malcolm Gladwell presents extensive research on how the subconscious mind forms an almost instant opinion about a person based their grooming, dress and physical appearance.

Mr. Gladwell calls this process "rapid cognition." The book is so named because it's about the decisions we come to in the blink of an eye. When a person meets someone for the first time, or walks into the doctor's office, or tries on a frame, his or her mind jumps to a series of conclusions within about two seconds. "Blink," is a book about that process, and the lasting conclusions that people come to in an instant.

Snap judgments

The concept has powerful implications for anyone who makes a living working with the public. One lesson I've learned is that no matter how well educated, clinically adept or caring any optometrist is, patients are pre-conditioned to make their first judgment based on how the doctor looks relative to their expectations of what a successful eyecare professional should resemble. And, according to Mr. Gladwell, that judgment is not something we can turn on or off. Humans are simply wired that way.

O.D.s who do dress down in the office would likely defend casual attire by saying that you like to be comfortable and once people get to know you, they don't even notice your faded polo shirt. There may be some truth in that. But changing a person's initial impression takes time. If you're in the practice-building mode, why create a neutral or even negative first impression when you could distinguish yourself and make a positive impact by dressing well in the office?

Look the part

When patients come to you for eyecare services, they want their visit to be a good experience, if for no other reason to validate their own choice of eye doctor. My advice: Don't disappoint them by dressing like a clerk in a convenience store. If you want to be viewed as a successful health care professional, you need to look like one.

THE FOUNDER OF THE HAYES CENTER FOR PRACTICE EXCELLENCE AT SOUTHERN COLLEGE OF OPTOMETRY IN MEMPHIS, DR. HAYES IS A REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR TO OM. E-MAIL HIM AT JHAYES@HAYESCONSULTING.COM.



Optometric Management, Issue: July 2006