Hygienists overwhelmingly favor unified, professional image in offices

RDH eVillage survey in February indicates a strong desire for a look that signals professionalism to patients, not "goofy" attire.

The February issue of RDH eVillage posted a survey regarding how important the personal image of a dental hygienist is in a practice. The 263 hygienists who responded were almost unanimous in their view that image "can make or break your relationships with patients."

Approximately 95% said image has a direct affect on their relationships with patients, and 83% rated the importance of their image as being "very important," as opposed to "somewhat important" (17%) or "not important" (0%).

"If we want to be considered professional, we must look and act professional," one reader said. "The ones I know who could use a makeover are people I do not know well enough to say anything. An image is often people's first and lasting impression of you. I go for a warm but professional look."

Another reader added, "A dental hygienist is a health-care professional and should reflect the image of good health. Her hair should be neat and clean, her makeup should be light and attractive, and her uniform should be clean, pressed and have no stains."

Some felt image transcends beyond the dental practice. "The personal image is reflected in all aspects of one's life, not just in the dental field," a reader said.

The survey included a question regarding whether personal image can "make or break your success in non-clinical endeavors such as speaking, consulting, or working at trade shows." The February issue contained some articles pertaining to hygienists who had used image makeovers to expand their careers. Of the 260 readers who answered this question, only one reader said image does not necessarily affect success in a non-clinical career option.

Not everyone felt comfortable with the idea of image makeovers for dental hygienists, feeling a loss of individuality would be at stake. "There is something to be said for being an individual," one reader stated simply.

However, another reader offered more details about her view of unrestrained individuality. The hygienist said, "I love tattoos and piercings. I have some, but no piercings on my face and no tattoos where patients can see them. This is my biggest issue with dental hygiene. I feel like I am not able to express myself as I would like, because I have to show a conservative well put together and non-rebellious persona. I hope this will change when my generation ages and changes with time."

The RDH eVillage survey also asked if the practice's "collective image" had an impact on the "success" of a dental practice. Again, most hygienists felt very strongly about the issue; 92% said the collective image "affects the success of the practice."

"Our office manager likes to dress us in goofy print uniforms that make me, a 44-year-old hygienist that has been practicing for 20 years, feel like an idiot," a reader said. "I don't think we should dress like this when trying to sell thousand dollar-plus treatment plans. But, she doesn't see the problem."

Another reader added the comment, "I find that it seems to vary according to offices. Some offices want a very professional look, and others seem to want a laid back mismatched look. I personally feel that the professional look is the best and does not have to be frumpy."

One reader said dentists should be more aware of image issues in a dental practice. "I think we are a profession that is between hospital scrubs and administrative suits," the reader said. "Crisp and clean has always been my minimal standard of presentation in my work. As an employee I don't have complete control over my wardrobe.

"Some employers will not provide anything more than one-size-fits-all cloaks. But to take it home and starch and press it, I feel at least presentable.

"Unfortunately, dentists in general seem to be distasteful, as well as cheap when it comes to dressing their clinical staff. It would be encouraging for this 'image improvement movement' to be presented to the employers who provide the uniforms."

Sixty-five percent of the respondents said their offices have a "chosen dress code/uniform code." RDH eVillage asked the 35% who do not work under a dress code if they felt like the dental practice should have a "unified dress code," and 79% expressed a longing for more professionalism in the office attire.

"I work in an office in which everyone dresses as they please," a reader said. "I miss working in an office that has a unified appearance."

Finally, the survey inquired about whether readers felt like "my image needs an update" and 82% said they have "looked in the mirror" with such thoughts. In addition, RDH eVillage asked if readers knew another hygienist who would benefit from an image makeover (68% said yes), but only 22% said they would "tell that person" that an image makeover was in order.

Some additional reader comments include:

• I think wearing a professional white lab coat is one key thing most offices/hygienists overlook that contributes to their image as professionals. I have worn a white coat for many years now, but hardly anyone else does these days. But the doctor I work with has, even before I started in the practice 13-plus years ago.

• I think there are a lot of overweight/obese hygienists that negatively affect our image as health-care providers. If we don't take care of our bodies, why would our patients want to take advice from us on how to take care of their own bodies and oral health?

• I don't wear scrubs. I feel like a slob in scrubs, even in clean pressed scrubs. I wear business casual. But, my look needs help.

• Image from a hygienist's take is different than that of the clients of the practice. Being groomed and acting in a professional manner, as well as treating each person with respect, are important "images."

• I find at the end of the week that I have less energy to spend on my image, but I still care how I look.

• We (hygienists) need to differentiate ourselves from dental assistants and other staff if we are to be successful. There can be a cohesive dress code, but the hygiene department needs to be recognized as a different department, and "uniform" can help achieve that.

• I am one of the oldest practicing hygienists in my area and I am in competition with ladies 30-plus years younger than me. Image is very important!

• We discuss this in our office maybe once every couple of years. I always feel that the most important thing clients look for are our smiles and pleasant personalities. A nice clean dress code is appreciated, but I feel that personality is the most important.

• Image and professionalism are important, not a "Hollywood" style overindulgence look like so many "makeovers" become. Professional, not trendy, low-cut, in-your-face, low-rise scrubs — that should be kept for home activities. A neat, clean, wholesome image goes a long way to patient relaxation and professional image.

• Scrubs are easy, comfortable, and common. How do you make them flattering?

• Scrubs make me look sloppy and like I'm in my pajamas.

• This is definitely one of those topics students should be reminded of daily. The reason I feel this way is because as educators we have allowed our students to be lazy with their appearance, and allowed them to be comfortable while going through the educational process. As long as they produce a good grade the rest will come, right? Wrong! Students tend to get lazy with their appearance in school and I feel this bleeds over into their professional life. The image of a professional should be a very important lesson in the professional learning experience. We should teach the importance of image in the work field. I don't care how educated you are, if you look unprofessional your patients aren't listening to you, and they will have a hard time taking you seriously. It's not easy to fix your hair every day, but being a "professional woman" isn't easy either. I had an instructor who told us on the first day of dental hygiene school, "Being a dental hygienist is a privilege we should not take for granted. We work in a very respected field. Respect yourself and your profession by looking like a professional." I feel people take you more seriously when you look as though you are trying to be a part of the professional community instead of disrespecting it by looking sloppy because you didn't feel like getting "dressed."

• Personality, good or bad, will outshine a person's outward appearance.

• Unfortunately, I believe that in our society our first impression affects how patients respond to us. After patients get to know us, our appearance (hopefully) does not matter.

• If you don't take your career or yourself seriously, how will you expect the patients to take you seriously — the bottom line.

• Thank you for having this (survey). I have felt for a long time that so many dental hygienists are dressing sloppily.

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