Why You Should Dress Professionally

Dress for the job you want by avoiding these 8 style faux pas.

Originally published in the August 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Loved this article? Subscribe to the magazine today

If you want to get paid as a professional, you need look like one. Your scruffy clothes or granola appearance could communicate a lackluster attitude toward personal hygiene, which could have implications for hospital infections, argues Dr. Stephanie Dancer, a consultant microbiologist at Hairmyres Hospital in Scotland.1

I agree.

Here are faux pas that could hurt your credibility and leadership role as the veterinarian, whether you're an associate doctor or practice owner:

1) Clients can't tell whether you're the doctor or technician.

Avoid wearing scrubs when seeing appointments, even on your surgery day. Slip on a white lab coat or zip-up smock that's embroidered with your doctor title and the hospital logo. Because emergency doctors will float between exam rooms and the treatment area, you'll need to wear scrubs, but put a lab coat over your scrubs before walking into exam rooms. Emergency care also has higher fees, so you need to look like a trusted professional to panicked pet owners, who you're meeting for the first time. Whether you're a general practitioner, specialist or emergency doctor, every veterinarian needs to project an image of credibility and experience.

 2) The clinic cat wears your lab coat.

During your lunch break, you toss your lab coat on your office chair, where the clinic cat naps. When you return for afternoon appointments, the rumpled lab coat is covered with pet hair.

Keep lint rollers in your office and in the lab/pharmacy hallway. Install a hook on the back of your office door or a wall where your lab coat can hang wrinkle-free during breaks and overnight. If you hate ironing, send your lab coats to the dry cleaners. For a few dollars, they'll wash, starch and iron your lab coats. If you're petite, have the sleeves tailored to fit. Don't roll up long sleeves or have cuffs soaking up dirt and stains while you deliver patient care.

3) You've had the same hairstyle since vet school.

Your 1980s scrunchies make better cat toys than hair accessories. Have your stylist give you a cut that is professional and easy to maintain. If you love your long hair, buy barrettes and embellished hair ties the next time you're at Target. Avoid a messy updo that looks like you just rolled out of bed and tied your hair with a rubber band.

4) Your practice manager dresses better than you.

Your khaki pants are frayed and your favorite polo shirt has snags from patients' nails. Each season, clean out your closet, scrutinizing your wardrobe for wear and tear. Donate clothing to Goodwill and enjoy the tax write-off. Watch for sales on Dockers khakis at Kohl's and stock up when the price is right.

5) Your shoes are scuffed.

You're constantly up and down on tile floors while delivering patient care. For $2.50 per shoe, Nordstrom will shine your shoes. Offered seven days a week, you can drop off several pairs of shoes and pick them up the same day. If you don't have a Nordstrom nearby, find a local shoe cobbler. If you prefer to do it yourself, have shoe shining become a Sunday afternoon routine. You'll look sharp for the coming workweek. Got kids? See if they'll take on the task for tips.

6) Your last manicure was on your wedding day — 10 years ago.

Clients look at your hands while you perform exams, give vaccines and present handouts and treatment plans. Clean, natural nails are fine. But hangnails, dirt under nails and dry, cracked skin communicates that you don't take care of yourself — and might have clients thinking you don't pay attention to details with your patients. My favorite healing lotion is Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve.

Treat yourself to a manicure. Avoid glitter and bright nail polishes, which will distract clients while you're trying to be an effective communicator. Choose a natural shade. OPI's Bubble Bath or Essie's Ballet Slippers are my go-to neutrals. Make your next appointment before you leave so you can look forward to the pampering.

7) You use a Gmail account for work email.

You run a million-dollar business. Don't use a free Internet email account that can get hacked or project that you're freelancing in veterinary medicine. Ask your website provider to create emails for you and employees that are branded to your veterinary hospital. When emails are sent from your domain name, it communicates that you're an established, trusted professional who takes your long-term branding seriously.

8) You wear shorts and flip flops to conferences.

Sunshine and 70 degrees at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando in mid-January is a welcome change. But you're at a professional continuing-education conference, not the beach. You might meet associate veterinarians you'd potentially hire, reunite with classmates or have pharmaceutical representatives invite you to dinner at a steakhouse. Dress like a doctor. You don't need to wear a three-piece suit or dress. Slacks, a sports coat and a collared shirt or blouse are appropriate. Ditch the jeans and board shorts.

Dressing better can change the way your brain works, helping you to focus on the big picture, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science. Clothing had a significant impact on cognitive processing.2

The next time you recommend a pet's $1,200 dental procedure or a $3,500 orthopedic surgery, look like you could afford to pay for it yourself.


  1. Rettner, R. Doctors Should Wear Professional Clothing In The Name of Hygiene, Doc Says. LiveScience, 06/14/2013. Accessed at www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/14/doctor-clothing-affects-hygiene-professional_n_3442131.html on 05-13-15.
  2. Gregoire, C. Dressing Better Can Change the Way Your Brain Works. The Huffington Post, 05/02/2015. Accessed at www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/02/wearing-a-suit-psychology_n_7188356.html on 05-13-15.

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