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How Much Is Too Much? 5 Things to consider when dressing for clinicals and beyond

Professional Dress for Clinicals and Beyond

NP Students

How Much Is Too Much? 5 Things to consider when dressing for clinicals and beyond


If it is your first clinical practicum, 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 reflects professionalism and confidence but how do you know how much is too much?

Professional dress and grooming for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) continues to be a challenge in clinicals and beyond. Case in point, you decide to wear the 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 but not for a clinical setting.

Your introduction to the NP profession is during your preceptorship which should demonstrate role professionalism as well as patient care. You may think overdressing is showing your best and being respectful. However, your style may lack the message you desire to send to your multigenerational patients.  

As a preceptor, I encourage my students to be aware of their appearance and model this behavior for them. Together students and preceptors are responsible for creating a learning opportunity while sustaining an inviting environment for patients. Adjusting to the work culture as the guest makes the atmosphere comfortable for everyone.

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

  1. Know Your Patient. Be mindful of the population you are serving. Some settings such as correctional facilities and religious affiliated hospitals may have different policies for uniform and make-up than a public organization. Shades like red and bright pink may be a confidence boosters but can send mixed messages. Soft pinks or neutrals would be more appropriate and less accentuating. There is nothing wrong with some groomed appearances. However, be sure to keep make-up minimal. When in doubt, modest appearance is best! 
  2. Know Your Environment. When it comes to any clinical environment, safety is first. Consider if you want to be the practitioner that triggers a patient’s asthma or whose hair hangs down on a site during a procedure. I also suggest wear shoes that are comfortable and can support you standing for long hours. You can also find some comfortable heels if you prefer them but consider the issues they will have on your body later on.
  3. Know Your Body. Wear subdued or neutral colors in both your clothing and make-up.  Fitted clothes and heavy make-up would be considered inappropriate when working with males and send the wrong message
  4. Know Your Facility. Most facilities have a dress code policy that outlines specific exemptions for certain groups and religions. As standard attire that reflects political opinions is not acceptable.
  5. Know Your Scent. In precepting as well as practice, perfumes, potent hair products, and lotions are discouraged in practice. Fragrance free lotions is encouraged to minimize reactions when you are around your patient. Also, be mindful that most shampoos and soaps have perfume.

           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!

            Yes, how we dress is a form of expression. I wholeheartedly embrace the freedom to express through hair, make-up, and dress. Hopefully you made it through this article without your inner rebel dying to rebuttal all the reasons why the list above violates the way you choose to express yourself. These are just a few things to consider for practicum success.

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




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