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Do you wear scrubs, a white coat, or dress to the nines when seeing patients? New research suggests that the way dermatologists dress does matter—although not as much as physician knowledge and skillset. For the study, Robert S. Kirsner, MD, PhD, Chair & Harvey Blank Professor in the Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and coauthors surveyed the attitudes of dermatology patients in three clinical centers and one university academic practice in Miami. In all, 261 were surveyed and 255 participated and completed enough questions for inclusion. Participants were shown photographs of physicians wearing business attire (suits), professional attire (white coat), surgical attire (scrubs), and casual attire in three settings: wound care, surgical, and medical dermatology. They were asked to indicate which physician they preferred.

Professional attire was preferred in 73 percent of responses and it was preferred across all clinic settings, the study showed. Surgical attire was preferred in 19 percent of responses, business attire in six percent and casual attire in two percent, according to the results.

Respondents even preferred the physician to wear professional attire when surgically removing a skin cancer, although a greater proportion of respondents did prefer surgical attire in this scenario compared with other ones.

Wardrobe preferences for aesthetic dermatologists were not included in the survey, so Practical Dermatology® reached out to a handful of top cosmetic dermatologists and others to find out what they wear to work and why. The answers run the gamut from creative to classic, from uniforms to designer duds and everything in between.

Fashion Meets Function

Dr. Waldorf’s specially-designed “Super Derm” clogs capture patients’ attention and start conversations.

Do clothes make the doctor? No, the doctor makes the doctor, but the clothes should fit the doctor’s personality and brand. I’ve worn blue scrubs (my office colors) daily for years, and recently switched to a more figure flattering, technical fabric version. If I’m not wearing scrubs then I wear a fitted white lab coat over my street cloths. Either way my hair is in a ponytail or if I’m lucky I have sweep of mascara. I’m on my feet all day, so clogs, boots, or flats are my footwear of choice. With my scrubs, I wear custom “Super Derm” clogs designed for me by a dear friend and fellow derm. The right shoe has me as a cartoon superhero wearing a cape and holding a syringe. The left has a “Super Derm” coat of arms with a syringe and a scalpel. My patients love them!

Watch it Now

Hear more from Dr. Waldorf on how clothing can fit your image in this episode of Heideas.

This “uniform” works for my practice because for the most part my patients are like me. They come in saying they are tired of looking tired but are worried about looking fake or overdone. They often make their appointments with me on a day off from work or home responsibilities so they arrive wearing lululemon and Nike. My scrubs are professional and keep the focus on the patient not my outfit. And my natural make-up-less look fits their personal goals.

Wearing either scrubs or a white coat is also consistent with my office Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) policy. OSHA-defined personal protective equipment (PPE) can include gloves, masks, and goggles depending upon the procedure, but PPE also includes your attire as it relates to patient contact. Conversely, there are also rules to limit contamination from us to our patients. Open toe shoes, the length of finger nails, and where and when scrubs and lab coats are worn and washed can all affect transmission of pathogens between the patients, the doctor, and even the doctor’s family. So fashion has to meet function.

Heidi A. Waldorf MD

Director, Laser & Cosmetic Dermatology 

Mount Sinai Hospital

Associate Clinical Professor

Icahn School of Medicine of Mount Sinai

New York City

In Their Shoes

As we are practicing in the aesthetic space, what we look like or don’t look like, for that matter, makes a difference. At least a handful of patients a day mention how young I look. This has probably impacted patients electing to do treatment with me or not. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes, which is an exercise I try to do everyday, not just with how I come off, but also how I explain something or how I recommend something. Would we be more receptive to follow the sun protection advice of a dermatologist who is significantly tan and covered with sun damage or one who has radiant even-toned skin? How we are seen is how we are perceived, and what we wear has an impact on this perception. 

I generally always dress professionally and wear dresses, skirts and a blouse or pants and a blouse to work. I rarely wear scrubs unless I have a surgical case. Inevitably patients always comment on my shoes or my jewelry, and to my surprise many (including my male patients) even noticed when I had to take a break from high heels because of my foot surgery. I am more aesthetically inclined. I think it’s important to be authentic and comfortable in what we wear, as patients can generally sense when we are uncomfortable which can also impact perception. 

Sabrina Guillen Fabi, MD, FAAD FAACS

Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor in Medicine/Dermatology, University of California

Associate & Associate Research Director

Goldman Butterwick Fitzpatrick Groff & Fabi, Cosmetic Laser Dermatology

San Diego

Forward Thinking Fashion

I typically wear a suit every day, but with no tie. I favor Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford because of the classic yet edgy cuts. Sometimes I will opt to go without a suit and choose a sports jacket instead. I usually wear John Varvatos on a more casual day.

Dr. Frank wears suits in his practice on most days sans tie.

All medical assistants and registered nurses wear black scrubs with the practice name embroidered in red. They are sleek and look professional. The office is modern and has a color palette of grey and red with silver. The receptionists are dressed professionally in dresses, skirts, or pants (anything but jeans). My Director of Operations (and sister), Ann, has helped define my brand since its inception. She is also a professor of fashion history at Parsons, which brings many elements to the nature of my practice. She sets the tone for the overall appearance of the office and staff. She favors Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, and Alaia for herself. She encourages the staff to have fun with fashion, hair, and makeup, but in a professional and tasteful way.

 The essence of my practice and brand is one that is stylish, luxurious, forward thinking, and a boutique welcoming environment located in the heart of the Upper East Side. I do what I do, because I have always taken pride in my own appearance and enjoy fashion as well as being the best version of myself in mind, body, and spirit. So, yes, I do believe that the way I present myself to my patients is essential to the success of my practice.

Paul Jarrod Frank, MD

Founder and Director

The 5th Avenue Dermatology Surgery & Laser Center

New York City

Sock It to ’Em

I wear a white coat/collared shirt, but I roll up my sleeves. I avoid ties. By avoiding long sleeves and ties, it serves two purposes: I can avoid contamination, blood spatter, etc. and the open collar/lack of tie differentiates me from other male physicians. I always wear bright-patterned socks for a pop of color. I only wear scrubs for surgical cases and then will change back into my original outfit.

My staff will wear uniform scrubs with my practice logo. This projects a sense of continuity and teamwork. Your dress should reflect your attributes that you want to convey to your patients. There is not (nor should there be) a standardized dress code for physicians. Physicians may dress differently if they want to appear more professional versus more creative and free-spirited.

As an aesthetic physician/dermatologist, you have more leeway in your dress because we are often treating aging/beauty and not disease. Some physicians want to project as aura of creativity and luxury, and thus their dress will be more luxurious and avant-garde.

Terrence Keaney, MD

Assistant Clinical Faculty

George Washington Hospital

Washington, DC

The No-brainer

Regardless of the alphabet soup at the end of your name, patients and others form an impression when they first see you and they want someone who looks professional. In my Chicago office, I wore street clothes and now I wear scrubs (Medelita) with logo and my name on it. The scrubs are mostly for comfort but also because we do procedures throughout the day- both medical and cosmetic so it saves me time in the morning trying to decide what to wear. I have three kids and I need the no-brainer wardrobe right now. Interestingly it is an unintended marketing tool. I have picked up a lot of patients just from running errands after work in my scrubs. 

My staff wears solid colored black scrubs. Everyone looks great in black. It looks professional and sleek.

Brooke A. Jackson, MD

Associate professor of dermatology

University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Chapel Hill, NC

Back in Black

We make our first impression in 1/100th of a second. How we dress, stand, smile, and appear all effect how others respond to us. Our patients are entrusting their appearance to us. They want to see balance and harmony, cleanliness, and professionalism in a skincare provider prior to deciding if this individual is going to advise, inject, and/or laser them.

Dr. Comstock’s team.

I wear clean, wrinkle-free, well-fitting, comfortable black scrubs, black support knee-highs, and black medical, leather clogs. The black scrubs are a “uniform” everyone wears in our office. This creates a confluent team appearance, easy-to-identify Skin Spectrum staff and takes the focus off of an “outfit” and places more focus on the patient. It is amazing how distracting clothes and jewelry can be to a patient. On the rare occasion I may have a meeting and I wear street clothes to work my clothing, shoes, and jewelry often become the focus of discussion. I am all about the patient, our conversation, and treatment. In addition, we do surgery, injectables, and a multitude of procedures all day long. I want to be comfortable and wearing easy-to-maneuver clothing that looks nice all day. Black is also my best clothing friend.

All of our staff wears black scrubs including our administrators, front office, medical assistants, and providers. The can chose a scrub line that fits their body type as long as it is black. They must also wear black, comfortable shoes. My staff loves the uniform and knows their clothes must always be clean, neat, and well fitting. They must also wear a nametag with their job title, hair out of their face, and present themselves to represent “looking your best.” It is our motto! Healthy skin is a must!! I believe these policies help instill trust and consistency in our large practice. We have 28 employees. We want our patients to feel whoever they see they have a constant, stable experience. A uniform can help visually impart this message. Our appearance is part of our medical branding of Skin Spectrum.

Many of my colleagues love their creativity with clothing they wear everyday. It is their brand and works well for them. They would not trade it for the world. I like that after hours!

Jody Comstock, MD


Skin Spectrum

Tucson, AZ

Best Reflections

The way I dress credentials me as a serous cosmetic dermatologist.

I wear a lot of jackets and skirts or dresses with a white coat open over my clothing. I did a lot of track and ballet when I was younger, and I like the way my legs look in skirts. I wear kitten heels. I am not interested in super high heels anymore. My feet are getting tired. I don’t wear a ton of make up—just mascara, concealer, and sunblock. I always have my nails done. My staff all wear black scrubs with their name tag. I like to keep it clean and professional.

It is important to be dressed appropriately in an aesthetic practice. You can’t come in with mustard stains on your shirt. A lot of my patients are working or stay-at-home mothers and they come in dressed like me, wearing jeans I would wear on the weekend. They reflect me and I reflect them. n

Jeanine B Downie MD, FAAD


image Dermatology P.C .

Montclair, NJ

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