Activity 11: Observe the Effects of a Formal Dress Codes on Patient Interaction



Formal dress codes, both implicit and explicit, have evolved throughout time to represent society’s norms. At a time when our society may contain conflicting viewpoints on what the expected and respected dress codes for healthcare practitioners are, it is important to determine what level of formality in dressing is most respected by patients across different healthcare specialties. 

Do patients respond better to practitioners who are more casually dressed, and subsequently considered relatable, or to workers who maintain a formal dress code and thus evoke respect from their patients? As future professionals ourselves, it is important to determine the effects of all our actions, including how our level of formality affects our patients comfort level. This exercise is designed to increase overall understanding of patient perceptions and hopefully provide insight that could improve the doctor-patient gap in our own careers.


Observe the level of formality in different types of clothes different healthcare practitioners may wear. Take note of how the formality of what each practitioner is wearing may affect the interaction and how they are viewed by the patient. 


-Students will have the opportunity to observe how formality of dress affects the overall patient interaction and the patient’s outward respect for practitioners. 

-Based on these observations, students will be able to determine how they will handle professional expectations like formal dress codes in their own careers.


Any site where a student is shadowing. If different practitioners of the same speciality are not available for separate observations, students can observe the difference in formality between different careers in the healthcare realm and observe how different levels of formality may or may not affect patient perception.

Recommended Preparatory Reading:

Marcus, Erin N. "When Young Doctors Strut Too Much of Their Stuff." The New York Times, November 21, 2006.

Maruani, A., J. Léger, B. Giraudeau, M. Naouri, E. Le Bidre, M. Samimi, and M. Delage. (2012) Effect of Physician Dress Style on Patient Confidence." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 27 (3):e 333-7.

Petrilli, C. M., M. Mack, J. J. Petrilli, A. Hickner, S. Saint, and V. Chopra. (2015) Understanding the Role of Physician Attire on Patient Perceptions: A Systematic Review of the Literature-- Targeting Attire to Improve Likelihood of Rapport (TAILOR) Investigators." BMJ Open 5 (1): e0006578.


Dependent on site placement, 1-2 hours.

Appropriate for:

Any undergraduate or graduate student interested in healthcare, could be adapted for any students from other majors and disciplines who could benefit from learning about the implications of dressing formally for work.

Activity Description:

1) At your shadowing site, shadow different practitioners either in the same career field (all doctors, all nurses, etc.), or in different career paths (doctor vs. nurses or managers vs. medical technicians) and observe how their dress codes differ.

2) Pay careful attention to patient-practitioner interactions. Is there effective communication present between the two parties? Do patients seem receptive to recommendations made by practitioners? If there are awkward or difficult interactions, try to determine what factors contribute to the difficulty.

3) After you have shadowed 3-4 different practitioners, reflect on your observations and try to determine whether formality of dress code affected the interactions between practitioners and their patients. Did you observe varying levels of formality between career fields? Do you feel that practitioners who dressed more formally were more respected by their patients? Or did formality make patients feel like they couldn’t relate to their practitioner?

Author: Emily Smith and Leticia Koher