This blog is about medical education in the US and around the world. My interest is in education research and the process of medical education.

The lawyers have asked that I add a disclaimer that makes it clear that these are my personal opinions and do not represent any position of any University that I am affiliated with including the American University of the Caribbean, the University of Kansas, the KU School of Medicine, Florida International University, or the FIU School of Medicine. Nor does any of this represent any position of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center or Northeast Georgia Health System.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Professional dress: does it matter any more?

Sorry, I have been absent for a couple of weeks.

We started a new class of students off on their medical journey last month. The first year students arrive on campus bright-eyed and bushy tailed as it were. At our school most are fresh out of college. They have spent the last four or five years as Biology or Chemistry majors. They went to class or maybe they didn't. Most college courses don't have attendance requirements. They are generally allowed to dress however they want, this time of year shorts, flip flops and ball caps are the norm.

In 2005, there was a big flap (or should I say flip/flap) when the national championship women's Lacrosse team from Northwestern University was invited to the White House to meet President George Bush.  The scandal began when several people noticed that a picture taken of the ladies showed four of the nine players in the front row wearing flip flops.  Now these ladies were dressed up in skirts and nice clothes. After all they were meeting the President, but dressing up apparently did not include changing shoes.
So here we are with another class of new medical students. I am the co-director of the first module so I am sitting there in class most every day. The students are polite, they almost always address me as Dr Delzell, and so far I have not seen any rude behavior in class. But at least half the class is wearing flip flops. T-shirts are the norm. Many extolling their undergraduate school or their fraternity/sorority. Many of the guys wear ball caps. 

Now don't get me wrong, I like to dress casual. As soon as I get home from work I put on shorts and a t-shirt. I love to wear flip flops. I would love to have a job at a medical school that is located on the beach so I could wear casual Hawaiian-style shirts and flip flops every day.  But I don't.  And neither do our students. 

I know that there are some schools that require professional dress whenever the students are on campus. Dr. David Steele, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Paul L Foster Texas Tech School of Medicine in El Paso has told me that at their new medical school the faculty decided to require students to dress professionally every day. Even during the basic science lectures. And last year, we were invited to be visiting professors at the Yerevan State Medical University in Yerevan Armenia. We visited the campus and toured one of their large lecture halls that would hold about 600 first year medical students. It had hard wooden benches and no air conditioning and the students were required to dress up (suit and tie for the men) each day for lecture.

I don't know if it makes a difference. We talk all the time about how Millennials-Generation Y is different from past generations. I am sure that in the sixties when the hippies started their first day of medical school, they were wearing bell bottoms and tie-dye shirts. I am sure the professors were concerned about the lack of professionalism that those students displayed.  This is to some extent a generational issue that is seen every year. But where is the line?  When is it a generational issue-where the younger generation have a different set of internal rules and values that guide them in different ways than a previous generation? And when is it a maturation issue-where you need to learn behavior from those that are your teachers and mentors?


  1. Amazing article. Up to some extent I think professional dress do matters a lot. But young generation find it boring and burden to wear the same dress throughout the whole session. Even the dress code incorporate sense of professionalism in the students.
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  2. The goal of medical school is to teach the physicians of tomorrow how to be doctors, not how to dress.

    Wearing nice clothes can be expensive. Medical school is expensive enough.

    Students will get plenty of time to learn how to dress appropriately during their clinical rotations, they don't need to do it during lecture.

    It's no disrepect to the lecturer, they are just clothes.

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