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Education & Training

How Much Is Too Much? Dressing for clinicals and beyond


If it is your first clinical rotation, then you are probably anxious about many things including looking your best. After all, you want to make a first impression that reflects the care that you will give.  It is given that the way you dress makes you appear confident and competent. 

So, today you decided to wear that pencil skirt that makes your red lipstick pop. Besides, the red accentuates the school’s logo that is on your lab coat. Your skirt also goes perfectly with your six-inch heels.  Even more, the weather is the perfect condition for bouncy curls and whispie lashes. And you top off your outfit with your favorite perfume because you want your jacket to smell like it was just  washed!  Then you take one more wink at yourself in the mirror because you know you look good.

Probably too good.  Too good? Yes.  This type of dressing to impress is perfect for the Queen, and professional dress and grooming for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) continues to be a challenge in clinicals and beyond. Your preceptorship is your introduction to the NP profession. This is includes role transition Did a poll and found that patients are receptive towards providers they perceived will give great care. You may think that dressing this way is showing your best and being respectful. But this ensemble may lack the message you desire to send. 

As a preceptor, I encourage my students to be aware of these things. Preceptors invest in creating a learning environment for you . You are coming into your preceptor’s home whose patients are making themselves vulnerable to you. You want to blend in as well as possible and make everyone as comfortable as possible. You don’t want how you are dressed to distract from your learning.

Here are a few things to consider when dressing for clinicals and beyond: 

  1. Know Your Patient. Be mindful of the patient population you are serving. Some settings such as correctional facilities and religious affiliated hospitals may have different policies for uniform than a public organization. Fitted clothes and heavy make-up would be considered inappropriate when working with males and send the wrong message. Modest appearance is best!   
  2. Know Your Environment. Bear in mind that specialties can determine disease types that you are exposing yourself to. If you are precepting with an allergist or pulmonologist then perfume is definitely a no-no. You don’t want to be the student that triggers a patient’s asthma. Imagine a geriatrician or neurologist office actually testing for cranial nerve I (olfaction or sense of smell). How awful would it be if the patient could not discern coffee beans or peppermint from your cucumber-melon scent? And your hair that is cascading in perfect curls down your back? Imagine a complex ingrown toenail or incision & drainage procedure that you have to perform while looking down. Not the best scenario for naturally long hair. The practice may be very fast paced and running from room to room with your hair in your face may not be ideal.
  3. Know Your Body. Therefore, wear subdued or neutral colors in both your clothing and make-up. Wear shoes that are comfortable to stand in for hours at a time. It’s ok if you are comfortable in heels. Just make sure they still are professional appearing and not paired with short skirts.
  4. Know Your Facility. As far as makeup goes: red is a confidence booster but can send intimidating or mixed messages. Soft pinks or neutrals would be more appropriate and would also be accentuating without being overwhelming. Nothing wrong with some finely done eyebrows or long lashes, just be sure to keep the black mascara to a minimum and not falling off in clumps. 
  5. Know Your Scent. Most shampoos and soaps have perfume. Consider using non-fragrant lotions and soaps. Be careful with lotions as many of these have strong fragrances mixed in with them. It is much better for your skin and your patient’s olfaction to use fragrance free lotions between hand washes.

            Finally, if you have long hair then wear it in a bun. It is a style that is quick and easy but also timeless in its appearance. Hair that is too short to wear up is fine to wear curled or natural. Just make sure your hair does not keep you from being able to concentrate on a procedure should the opportunity arise!

            Right now, your inner rebel is probably shouting all the reasons why the list above is wrong and violates the way you choose to express yourself. In fact, I am the first person to celebrate freedom of expression through hair, make-up, and clothes. I fully embrace that people have cultures, styles, and political opinions when it comes to their wardrobes. You may dress professionally at your place of work and still wear neon lipstick and spike your hair. That is fine. But your clinical rotation is not your place. You are a guest and as a guest you need to be as respectful as possible.

            Preceptors, have you encountered a student that was over or underdressed? Share how you positively handled the situation.


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