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Image: a better you

Nov. 1, 2006
Wish: To be judged on your skills, compassion, capabilities, character, and knowledge.

WRITTEN BY Laura Murcko, DMD

Wish: To be judged on your skills, compassion, capabilities, character, and knowledge.

Reality: First impressions last a lifetime. You have to look the part.

It is a challenge in dentistry to be glamorous, professional, and follow the guidelines of the CDC and OSHA. Every day you have the opportunity to make a first impression on new and potential patients. Consider first your safety, then your professionalism and comfort.

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Here is a review of what the government expects from our profession regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

PPE is designed to protect the skin and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth of dental health-care personnel from exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material. The primary PPE in dental offices includes gloves, masks, protective eyewear, face shields, and protective apparel such as gowns and jackets.

Selecting appropriate PPE should be based on the procedure being performed and the possibility of exposure. The CDC suggests that when selecting PPE, the goal should be to prevent blood or other potentially infectious materials from reaching an individual’s clothing, skin, eyes, mouth, or other mucous membranes. All PPE should be removed before leaving the work area. General work clothes such as uniforms, scrubs, shirts, and blouses that are worn outside the work area are not considered PPE. The lab coat that is over these clothes is PPE. If scrubs are the only clothing worn, then these are considered PPE and should be removed before leaving work.

I no longer wear scrubs to the office. I have opted for the more professional, business-casual attire. I often hear: “I like that you change out of your scrubs when you are in public. I almost want to gag when I see doctors at lunch in their saliva and blood-spattered scrubs.”

I want to defend my profession, but what others perceive is the general consensus, whether it’s true or not. You may be wearing clean scrubs, but the public assumes they are dirty. TV shows such as “Scrubs” and “Grey’s Anatomy” portray surgeons wearing scrubs while the idea of surgery dances in their heads. Who assumes you wore a lab coat over your scrubs? It is the mind’s association with infection and blood that makes you look unappealing, and this is not the professional image you want to create. Don’t wear scrubs in public!

Your success is strongly impacted by your appearance during the first moments of any contact. Whether you are in or out of the office, place a high value on your appearance each and every day.

Many image consultants recommend wearing business attire or business casual with a protective lab coat. A lab coat is a good bet. Since the CDC recommendations of covering skin and protecting street clothes from contamination are for our own safety, consider covering as much as you can using gloves to closed-toed shoes or socks, all the way up to eye protection.

Consider the office’s total image. Does your attire reflect the level of professionalism? Some doctors choose to blend with their décor, some with their staff, and others choose a combination of scrubs and business attire.

There is appropriate dress for different office functions. Business office people and greeters are the image-makers of the office because they are the first and last people patients have contact with. It is appropriate for them to wear business or business casual attire. Assistants are best suited in casual wear or scrubs. Neatness and comfort are important, and this includes hairstyle. Keep hair short or pulled back so it does not affect the dental work or draw criticism from the patient.

For your sake and the sake of your employees, comply with the regulatory standards of the profession set by the CDC and OSHA. You must red-bag contaminated PPE for the laundry service. This is to protect others in the office and maintenance workers from contaminated PPE.

Every single element of you conveys image. Do you have daggers for fingernails? This conveys pain and uncleanliness to many people. Most dentists and assistants cannot perform their duties safely with long fingernails. Using nails to hold instruments and prosthetic pieces or intricate implant parts can be very dangerous. Keeping nails short is key because the majority of bacterial and fungal flora on hands is found under and around fingernails.

What message do open-toed shoes send? The CDC recommends wearing closed-toed shoes or socks with open-toed shoes. Do you really want those calloused heels to show? A reminder where image is concerned: all high-powered companies leave nothing to chance - closed-toed shoes look professional and are mandatory. As for your staff, the CDC recommends covering all exposed skin, and OSHA guidelines are for the protection of all employees.

Now let’s concentrate on you, the female dentist. Every morning presents the decision of what to wear. If you haven’t planned your work wardrobe, you will find yourself looking in a full closet and complaining that you have nothing to wear. Do you ever rush out the door feeling like you are not put together?

You must first know yourself, your office mission, and the image you want to portray. Then you can choose your wardrobe.

I have a professional friend who underwent a serious surgery. As a result, she lost a moderate amount of weight. She was a phone call away from hiring a seamstress to “take in her clothing.” It no longer fit and was no longer her desired style. She needed someone to remind her to adorn her new body shape with new clothes and styles that reflect the new her.

The first part of organizing your work wardrobe is to organize your closet. Know your closet. This will enable you to put your clothes together in different ways. You will be able to identify what items you need to make your wardrobe more workable. A good rule of thumb is, if it hasn’t been worn in over a year, give it away. Purge your clutter. Keep your classics.

When trying to eliminate some of your extra clothing, ask yourself if it still fits. Is it the right color for you? Have you ever considered hiring an image consultant? An image consultant assesses, critiques, and recommends solutions for optimal appearance, wardrobe, body language, and intonation as tools to achieve personal or business goals.

If you do not appear distinctive, you may be perceived as ordinary or lacking in creativity. If your clothing, accessories, or hair look dated, people will assume your dental services are dated. People will form an opinion and may never have the opportunity to judge your high-tech equipment because they formed an opinion based on your appearance.

A friend of mine told us during a CE course about image that her office was casual and friendly, and that was how she dressed. Several months later she admitted she wore a more tailored wardrobe after she heard that several of her patients went to another dentist for veneers. They thought she was a family dentist and not a cosmetic dentist. Regardless of what her business card stated, the perception was that she did not provide cosmetic services. Her image now conveys that she is capable of paying attention to detail and providing state-of-the-art cosmetic restorations. If you provide state-of-the-art dentistry, your image must convey “I am state-of-the-art!”

We choose our colors from the “heart and soul” and not always from the results shouting at us in the mirror. We are all subconsciously affected by color. The colors we wear communicate on a subliminal level. You can judge yourself, your voice, wardrobe, gestures, and image. But wouldn’t it be smart to ask a consultant to perfect something outside of your specialty? Achieving business and personal goals is at your fingertips with an image consultant’s expertise, who will help you sharpen and refine your image.

When you look good, you feel good and you’re more confident. Perfecting your image can only enhance your business, your life, and you!