November 19, 2009

Professional Attire And Professional Attitude

by Noella Mbah, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Resident, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital

Being well groomed and wearing the appropriate clothing is evidence that a person takes his or her professional responsibilities seriously. This is especially true for practitioners in the health care professions. A majority of studies evaluating a patient’s perception of a health care professional’s appearance have found that patients care about their provider’s appearance.(Goodsman-Snikoff G. International Journal of Pharmacy Education 2003 (Spring); 1(1). Available at: These studies have found that patients use appearance to judge the provider’s competency and credibility. It is for this reason that the majority of colleges or schools of pharmacy implement a dress code for all experiential rotations. Patients trust pharmacists as a source of accurate medical information and depend upon them to act in their best interest while providing pharmaceutical services. Each student and graduate pharmacist inherits this time-honored legacy to dress and act professional at all times.

After acceptance into a doctor of pharmacy program, the students begin a process of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are the fundamental core of the profession. Implementing a professional dress code amongst pharmacy students, even during the classroom-based portion of the pharmacy curriculum may help prepare students for the practice of pharmacy. The impact of formal dress codes in pharmacy school have a demonstrable effect on student attitudes regarding professional behaviors.(Gorham, J et al; Communication Quarterly 1999; 47(3): 281-299)

Many colleges and schools of pharmacy have attempted to emphasize the importance of student professional development by establishing ceremonies and policies that place value on professional appearance and behavior such as white coat ceremonies, pinning ceremonies, and codes of professional conduct. During the classroom-based portion of the curriculum, some schools require their students to dress professionally with white coat on campus at all times while other schools haven’t implemented such a requirement yet. However, all schools require students to dress professionally during their experiential practice rotations. Is there a difference between the performance of students who were required to dress professionally on campus when compared to those who were not required to do so? Do preceptors see a difference in their professional attitudes and their desire to uphold the oath they took during their white coat ceremony?

Professional socialization within pharmacy has been described by Duke et al as ‘‘the general process whereby students learn about the professional role of pharmacists and the expectations of performance in that role”.(American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2005; 69(5); 104) The article goes on to list the factors affecting the professional attitude of students such as, individual student values, reason for selecting pharmacy as a profession, role models (including faculty members and practicing pharmacists), ideology and culture of the College of Pharmacy, curricular content and design, past and current practice-based experiences, and peers. Many colleges or schools of pharmacy teach professionalism to their students by emphasizing the “Oath of the Pharmacist”, encouraging students to observe and learn from role models, and assigning faculty or staff to students to serve as mentors.

Although professional behaviors may be addressed in professional schools through dress code requirements and other practices, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to develop an appropriate professional attitude and to demonstrate this in his/her professional life after graduation. Personally, as a new practitioner, I strive to implement the virtues of professionalism which I learned from my years in the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum.

[Editor's Commentary: Whether pharmacy students are more likely to develop professional behaviors by wearing professional attire in the classroom is an unanswered question. It seems doubtful that the mere act of wearing a neatly pressed shirt/blouse with dress pants is going to lead to other behaviors we often associate with professionals - such as initiative, self-confidence, timeliness, persuasiveness, and possession of advanced knowledge and skill. However, by bringing conscious attention to these professional behaviors - including attire - we heighten awareness about what it "means" to be a professional. Humans quickly ascribe "meaning" to objects. Uniforms are a clear example. The police uniform represent authority. For some, the mere sight of someone wearing a police uniform evokes respect and trust. For others, it evokes distrust and anger. Thus, the object (in this case, a police uniform) is imbued with meaning that leads to cognitive responses ... which leads to behaviors. These responses occur not only in the person seeing the police uniform, but also in the person WEARING the uniform. We invest deeper meaning in these objects through ceremony and rituals (e.g. graduation from the police academy or burial ceremonies for slain officers). Similarly, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy have uniforms, symbols, and ceremonies - to instill meaning (for us and our patients) and to formally acknowledge our societal obligations. And these symbols and ceremonies are an important part of adopting an attitude ... which often leads to professional behaviors. -S.H.]

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