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Friday, March 12, 2010

When You Should Be “Fancy”

By Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

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Recently I was home, and all dressed up to go do something related to “work.” My nine-year-old daughter glanced at my attire, hair-do, and make-up and said “Mom, why do you have to get all “fancy” in a tone that suggested she was disgusted that I felt the need to succumb to society’s opinion of what a woman should look like (we had recently attended a mother-daughter class on puberty that mentioned the danger of girls giving in to the media’s idea of body image). Add that to the fact that my daughter thinks putting on a clean coat and combing her hair is making her “all fancy,” and I knew where she was coming from. I explained to her that sometimes you need to dress “professional” in your work to get the right message across. It wasn’t too much further into the conversation that I realized this was a no-win situation, because it was really hard to explain to her, as young kids are so “black and white” in their thinking.

Yet it occurred to me that often our veterinary professionals don’t feel this need to scale up their attire and overall look to appear “professional” when it is appropriate … such as during a job interview, at conferences and CE events, and basically anytime they can’t just pull on a pair of scrubs, likely wrinkled ones at that. In a profession that lets us basically wear pajamas 90 percent of the time, you’d think we’d enjoy playing dress-up on occasion! But it’s more than that, and it seems a lot of veterinary professionals have a difficult time knowing how to dress appropriately outside of scrubs. When does this become a problem? When we want the world in general and the people around us to view us as true “professionals?” If we don’t appear the part, how do we expect to gain and retain the respect that we so desire?

Take credentialed technicians and their long struggle to be viewed as professionals by both the general public and the veterinary profession at large. We (and yes, I have RVT behind my name) expect to be shown respect, paid what we’re worth, and listened to when we have ideas to offer, yet we may be the first ones to wear torn jeans and a casual t-shirt to a major conference. Hmmm, what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, if you’re willing to accept the place in society and within veterinary medicine that you now feel we occupy. But if you’re looking to be elevated to a higher level, both in terms of respect and pay, then attire is just one of many things you should be considering.

While you technicians may feel picked on, this is true for every position in our practice: the front office who wants to be respected for their hard work, the assistant who does more than just scoop poop, and the manager who has to lead the team. We all need to look around at our profession, and in the mirror, and be sure we’re sending the right message with what we wear and how we look outside of practice.

This thought also occurred to me at WVC this year, when we shared the Las Vegas hotel with a conference of fashion designers … it was not difficult to separate out who was NOT here for the veterinary conference! Maybe some of us should have snuck into their lectures!

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