Sirven: How Doctors Should Dress

By Dr. Joseph Sirven
March 24, 2014

When you go to a medical appointment, you probably expect your doctor’s clothes to be clean. Well, turns out, they may not be. That got KJZZ commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven thinking, how should a doctor dress at work, anyway?


I woke up this morning, went to my closet and asked myself the eternally important question, "What will I wear today? Will it be a suit or scrubs or maybe a white lab coat?"

With so many new easily transmitted antibiotic resistant bugs living in hospitals, this question actually matters a lot.        

Based on past studies of doctors’ clothes, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology came up with a recommended dress code for physicians who work outside an operating room. The group found that a third of doctors’ ties are contaminated with staphylococcus aureus bacteria.  Even worse, 70 percent of physicians admit to never cleaning their ties. Lab coats, wedding bands, watches, cuffs and sleeves were found to be routinely contaminated with germs. Yuck!!!

The guidelines suggest that doctors should wear short sleeves, eliminate jewelry and skip neckties, because it is only a matter of time before someone reports an infection linked to clothes. But hold on, because the same group found that patients want their physicians to look distinguished. Those patients are comforted by the traditional white coat.

And that brings up a big question for doctors. What is appropriate clothing when you are giving a patient a diagnosis of cancer, when you're presiding over a psychotic breakdown or declaring a death?

I took an informal poll of my colleagues and found equal support for suits AND pajama-like scrubs. Everyone endorsed a professional look, whatever that means...

So my approach is simple. When I dress each morning, I go for dignified and reverent to respect my patient’s life-altering moments without adding to their troubles. And today, well I guarantee you I'll still be wearing a tie. (My employer requires it). And it will be clean.     

Dr. Sirven is a KJZZ commentator and a Scottsdale-based neurologist.