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Doctors Gone Wild

Hospitals Reinforce Dress Codes

By Daniel Muniz

The steamy television program “Grey’s Anatomy” and the shift in cultural norms is influencing the professional attire of medical doctors. Instead of traditional business apparel and the white lab coat, female physicians are opting for high heels, short skirts showing plenty of leg, plunging necklines revealing bulging cleavage, midriffs exposing pierced belly buttons, and the display of thong straps creeping above the waistline for a whale tail.

Meanwhile, male doctors are now sporting a more manly appearance with stubby unshaven facial hair, numerous tattoos, pony tails, and even Bermuda shorts.

Such attire may be fine for a night club or the beach but it is starting to impact doctor-patient relationships because patients who do not respect their doctors or who no longer take them seriously may not get the best possible care. And most importantly, if patients are unable to disclose their most intimate health needs to their physicians then they may not be able to obtain the treatment they really need.

The heart of the matter is that more patients are feeling uneasy with the sexual messages that sexier outfits worn by female physicians convey or the “too casual” appearance of their male counterparts. In fact, younger doctors are beginning to emulate fictional television characters resulting in clothes that are vastly different than what traditional doctors have always worn.

Of course the wild sexual escapades in hospitals do not happen nearly as often or as vividly as depicted on Grey’s Anatomy. That is not to say that sex does not occur at the workplace but rather that this television show and may others is simply is a work of fiction. And the more sensational it is, then the more entertaining it will be to its viewers, which translates into more erotic passion because television studios know that sex sells.

And besides, if the mass mind was really interested in authentic medical entertainment, then the ratings for the Discovery Health Channel would have gone through the roof.

But fiction or not, young doctors are taking cues from Grey’s Anatomy and from popular culture which is alarming the medical community. The profession itself is not as much concerned with restricting the personal expression from physicians at the workplace but rather the concern is focused on the relationship with patients. If patients do not trust their doctors to the point that they no longer have the ability to be frank with them in discussing sensitive health topics, then the profession is needlessly weakened.

In fact, there is evidence to back up this assertion. Researchers for a 2005 American Medical Journal study painstakingly reviewed the responses of a random sample of people who were shown pictures of doctors who were all dressed in totally different attire. Not surprisingly, the respondents overwhelmingly chose the doctors with the professional appearance and the white lab coat as the people whom they were willing to discuss their health problems with.

Perhaps it is unfair that people place such a value on a professional image but maybe the result really isn’t as much of a shock. When it comes to pain and suffering and your life or the life of a loved one is in the hands of someone else, it is natural to expect using a professional that you can take seriously. Someone wearing Bermuda shorts or is wearing tight transparent clothing in which you can see their bra and panties is probably not the person that many people envision trusting in an emergency or in a life threatening situation.

However, many hospitals still retain a business like dress code that forbids their doctors from dressing like they are going to a night club and they are reluctant to change even though doctors insist that perception is not reality.

But more importantly, perhaps some doctors are too naïve or have an unrealistic expectation to believe that there is no sexual connotation involved with sexy clothes. That is sheer nonsense because certain clothes and the way that they are worn are designed to titillate especially when cleavage is revealed or skirts are too short or bras and panties are exposed.

The bottom line is that patients interpret the nature of sexy clothes in many different ways and that has serious ramifications.

For instance, I probably wouldn’t mind if I had a gorgeous strawberry blonde doctor who wore high heels and a midriff that displayed a pierced belly button. I have always been reluctant to have my prostrate examined but if I had a physician like that, then I wouldn’t mind at all if she checked it. However, now that I am married with children, I no longer want to be in such a situation because my view of the world is now vastly different. Consequently, other people may feel uneasy or intimidated while others would simply be repulsed if a female doctor wore clothes that were too risqué.

I have had plenty of female doctors and specialists and I have always thought of them in a neutral professional sense. One primary care physician that I had for a long time, I always viewed her in a motherly sense in that I would get the best possible care since she often told me that she had a son around my age.

But in all truthfulness, it is natural for other people to be unsettled or feel uncomfortable.

I personally don’t have a problem with a young male doctor sporting a ponytail nor does a visible tattoo bother me. Nor do I think physicians are dressed unprofessionally if they wear business casual clothing because I live in Texas and it is far too hot for too long of the year for a man to wear a tie or for a woman to be required to wear pantyhose. Common sense rules are fine and I feel that society can accept them as long as they are done intelligently.

Perhaps what I would find bothersome are the doctors who choose to go overboard. I do not want to be sort of person that judges a book by its cover but realistically people have an expectation for highly skilled professionals to dress as professionals, especially in regards to their health care. And besides, the same expectation already exists in so many other skilled professions in that employers do not want their employees to wear clothes that portray a sexual undertone or a lackadaisical one either.

If a male doctor wants to dress like a surfer to work, then perhaps he should have been one instead. And the same go for a female physician. If her skirt is so short that she flashes her panties every time she stands up, then she should have opted to become a cocktail waitress instead.