5 Ways A Doctor Can Dress to Impress

Thursday, April 07, 2016 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

“Dress how you want to be addressed.” It’s the one thing that Dr. Geraldine Racaza said, quoting a psychologist from Cornell University, that made an impression on me.

Just recently, I have been unceremoniously shrugged off by a foreign doctor. People thought it was because of one reason: I looked young.Doctors dress codeI would have been rather flattered any other day, but I hated being judged based on either my gender or my age. It was then a happy coincidence that I had the chance to listen to Dr Racaza when she discussed how doctors can dress for themselves and their patients.

How Physicians Can Dress to Impress

Based on the power-dressing tips I learned that day, here is how I (or you!) can dress for both patients and colleagues. I will be following these tips myself so that colleagues will take me seriously, notwithstanding my wonderfully young face.

1. Wear clothes that will describe you the way you want to be described

As a doctor, do you want patients to think of you as friendly or serious? Do you want people to think you’re competent, or do you prefer giving off the vibe that you’re a caring doctor?

The solution: Dress the way you want to be described!

If you’re working with children and you want to be approachable to them, wear colorful clothing that will remind them of their favorite toys and candies. If you’re a surgeon and your patients aren’t taking you seriously, dress smarter and choose more somber colors.

Let’s put ourselves in our patients’ shoes by answering the question below.


All three photos are of the same person (yours truly) and I know I’m not at all photogenic (plus I’m a real goof), but among these three, whom would you ask for medical advice? The emo girl, the jokester, or the lady wearing a white coat?

Whether we like it or not, we will be judged by how we look and what we wear. Case in point: me, the day a foreign doctor chose not to take me seriously despite never having met me before… simply because I looked “young”.

2. Use accessories with care

I like kikay stuff. I have a four-tier jewelry box full of different earrings of different sizes and designs, including a pair with feathers! But I don’t wear that pair whenever I’m meeting with fellow doctors because I know they’ll think I’m a, well, birdbrain.

Oh, and don’t pile them on. Patients tend to get annoyed more by over- than under-accessorizing.

3. To appear smarter, wear glasses

This one seems ridiculous for two reasons. First of all, it makes other people seem judgmental and superficial – after all, we are to assume that they will find us smarter simply because we have earned the right to be called four-eyes.

Secondly, by attempting to fall under the four-eyed stereotype, we are pandering to the public. It works, though.


“Glasses can change professional perception and make you look more competent,” said Dr. Racaza in the well-attended post-grad course by Manila Doctors Hospital.

If you look “young” or “too feminine” to people who judge you based mainly on how you look, it’s the easiest way to be taken seriously without getting into a long, drawn-out, and futile argument about why men can be such pigs.

Yep, wear a pair of glasses. It eliminates the bloodshed.

4. Don’t dress like you’re the wealthy wife of a corrupt politician

I know you love your Chanel suit. I know that bag of yours that screams Louis Vuitton cost you a lot and you want to flaunt it. But if you don’t want your patients to resent you, fashion experts recommend dressing with sympathy and humility.

Dr Geraldine Racaza“Patients don’t want to feel piteous next to a rich doctor,” Dr. Racaza said, sharing the results of a survey. It was not exactly a randomized control trial, but the participants’ responses were quite revealing.

“If the clothes are too expensive, I know the fees are too expensive,” shared one of the respondents in the survey.

Remember, however, that the opposite is also frowned upon. “If the doctor looks too dugyot, perhaps the doctor has no patients?”

There you go – straight from the horse’s mouth. “Stay within the middle range.”

5. Wear your white coat

Yes, it matters more than you think. Aside from patients actually preferring that you don the white blazer, research shows that a white coat can improve your performance!

The white coat phenomenon depicts a placebo effect that improves the attention and focus of whoever is wearing the white coat. It’s not the same as white coat hypertension, by the way.

Two groups in a study were made to wear white coats. One group was told they were wearing the coat of a painter. The other group was made to believe they were wearing the coat of a doctor.

The reality is, both groups were made to wear the same white coat. However, the second group – the one made to think they were wearing the coat of a physician – did better in focus and attention tasks.

Philosophers call it embodied cognition. In a nutshell: You become what you wear. “It’s not enough that patients see your white coat hanging in the doorway. Wear it.”

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!