Hitting a Nerve



In July, 2021, JAMA published a study about physicians’ sartorial habits, basically saying that people prefer doctors to dress “professionally.” Even today the white coat still carries some weight.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

And I still don’t care.

Today, like every workday since June 2006, I put on my standard patient-seeing attire: shorts, sneakers, and a Hawaiian shirt. The only significant change has been the addition of a face mask since March 2020.

I have no plans to change anytime between now and retirement. I live in Phoenix, the hottest major city in the U.S., and have no desire to be uncomfortable because someone doesn’t think I look professional. It’s even become, albeit unintentionally, a trademark of sorts.

Now, as always, I let my patients be the judge. If someone isn’t happy with my appearance, or feels it makes me less competent, they certainly have the right to feel that way. There are plenty of other neurologists here who dress to higher standards (though jackets and ties, outside of the Mayo Clinic down the road, are getting pretty hard to find).

This is one of the things I like about having a small solo practice. I can be who I am, not who some administrator or dress code specialist says I have to be.

I do my best for my patients, and those who know me are aware that my complete lack of fashion sense doesn’t represent (I hope) an equal lack of medical care. Most of them seem to come back, so I guess I’m doing something right.

But it brings up the question of what should a doctor look like? In a world of changing demographics the stereotype of a neatly-dressed middle-aged white male certainly isn’t it anymore. With increasing numbers of women and people of color entering the field, the fact is that there isn’t a stereotypical doctor anymore.

Nor should there be. Medicine should be open to all with the drive, brains, and talent who want to follow to path of Hippocrates. Maybe I’m naive, but I still see this as a calling more than a job. Judging someone’s medical competence solely on their sex, race, appearance, or fashion sense is foolhardy.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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