Professional appearance in the workplace

Oct. 19, 2010
As an instructor for a dental assisting school, Tija Hunter, EFDA, has seen it all when it comes to appearance and dress. In this article, she tackles the subject of professional appearance and gives tips on how to project the right image in the dental profession.
By Tija Hunter, EFDAAs an instructor for a dental assisting school, sometimes I think I've seen it all when it comes to appearance and dress. I like to tackle this subject right off the bat with my new students, and here are some of the things I point out. One of the biggest concerns I see is our personal choice of piercings and tattoos. There’s nothing wrong with either of these things, but keep in mind that some of these aren't acceptable in certain professions. Patients hate going to the dentist because it's a very stressful place for them. Many of our patients suffer from anxiety. One of our biggest jobs is to calm them, make them feel comfortable, and give them a sense of trust in our abilities. As they lay back in the chair and look up, they might not feel very confident if the assistant has pink hair, tats all over her neck and arms, and piercings dotting her face! It's our human nature to judge people by their appearance ... right or wrong. It's that all-important first impression that sets the tone. Subtlety is key when dressing for work. One time I worked with an assistant who wore so much makeup, she left makeup on everything she touched —the soap dispenser, door handles, even the computer mouse. Seems she constantly touched her face, and therefore wiped her makeup off in the process, so she was constantly applying more! Needless to say it was an issue with the entire team because they hated to clean up her makeup mess.Another problem is our choice of scrubs. It's such an easy thing; scrubs are so cute these days with so many styles and colors. Some of the manufacturers of scrubs want to be trendy and keep up with the latest fashion. We have a lot of young girls out there and some manufacturers cater to them. The tops are shorter, the pants more hip hugger, and long legs are slit up the side. Let me give you a few things to think about when picking out scrubs. First of all, we are not plumbers and our butt cracks don't need to show. Try on your scrubs at the store and bend over to touch your toes. If your backside hangs out or that "tramp stamp" shows, then that's a problem. This doesn't mean you can't buy the scrubs you want; just buy a nice lab coat to go over it. A long sleeve lab coat is also great for covering up arm tattoos. Length of scrub pants is also an issue. Pants these days are really long. If you're not careful, it's easy to walk on the last couple of inches of your pants. This is OK for blue jeans, but not for professional work attire. If you aren't able to hem the pant legs, find someone to help you. Dirty, walked-on scrubs don't project an image of cleanliness in the office. Another concern I'd like to address is what personal news we share with our teammates and patients. I prefer a drama-free work zone. I don’t want coworkers coming in crying about the fight they had with their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse. Leave home-life drama at home. Don't feel the need to share with your new employer certain matters of your personal life. This creates uncertainty for all team members and raises a few red flags. Don't give your team any reason to doubt your abilities, and don’t become ammunition for gossip in the kitchen. Your patients should know only general information about you: how many kids you have, pets, a few places you went on vacation. When you tell your patients your family's sick and you may be coming down with it, or that you didn't get enough sleep the night before (for whatever reason), it doesn't make your patients feel confident about you assisting the doctor, and it will give the doctor doubts as well. Keep in mind that others perceive what you say differently.Dentistry is an age-old profession. Doctors put not only their heart and soul into their practices, but hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars into making them the best they can. They want to acquire a quality team that projects the image of professionalism. That image is "your" image. It tells people who you are and what you’re about. Wake up a few minutes early so you have plenty of time to get ready. Eat a good breakfast and leave the house feeling confident. Remember, if you don't have confidence in yourself, then why would anyone else? Your attitude and image are everything. Make them shine and you will rise above everyone else!Editor's note:CLICK HERE for DAD editor Kevin Henry's video interview with Florida dental assisting instructor Cindy Bradley. They discuss how social media, piercings, and tattoos may impact dental assistants.
Author bioTija Hunter, EFDA, is an expanded functions dental assistant/office manager in O'Fallon, Mo. She is a part-time assisting instructor for Advanced Dental Careers, member of the ADAA, and an independent dental consultant specializing in team building, assistant training, and office organization. She can be reached at [email protected].