What does your veterinarian wear?
“Who cares?” you might say. “I guess she wears a lab coat. Maybe she wears a scrub top.”
Well, I say it’s nobody’s business. But my clients apparently think commenting on my clothes is part of their annual visit.
A comment on my appearance begs a response. Otherwise, I feel I’m being rude. But talking about my appearance always puts me on the defensive.
- “My, you look fancy today. Look at that nice skirt!” (“Oh, this old thing? I bought it 10 years ago at T.J.Maxx.”)
- “I can’t believe you’re wearing black today. It picks up everything.” (“Oh, we have plenty of those clothes rollers in the back. I wear black all the time.”)
- “Are those shoes as comfortable as they look?” (“Yes, very comfortable. Does that mean they’re ugly, too?”)
Outfit Comments Aren’t Always Welcome
When clients talk about my clothes, I feel 14. “Debora,” my mom must be saying from the great beyond, “that’s not how a veterinarian dresses.”
How does a veterinarian dress? My independent spirit says, “Any way she wants.”
But there’s more to it than that. Appropriate attire helps you do any task better, like the right tool for the job. So what do we do if we want to appear professional but need to stick our fingers up a dog’s buzumpah?
The Veterinarian’s (Tricky) Dress Code
A veterinarian’s dress code probably should be somewhere between business casual and dog/cat construction wear. Call it “Anal gland casual.”
We are medical professionals working in a medical office. We see patients in a clean, well-equipped hospital. We have appointments where we must act professionally and look the part. We do sterile surgery in a state-of-the-art surgical suite.
But veterinary medicine can be a dirty job. If you think you’re facing a lot of crap at your office today, I am literally facing a lot of crap today — on my gloves, on my hands and maybe on my clothes. I’m not one of those prima donna vets who don’t get down and dirty.
- A Great Dane only wants to get her “area” checked on the floor? I get down on my knees and stick my head under her tail.
- If an emergency comes up and I have to unblock a cat in the middle of the day, the task is engrossing. Stick my face near that bladder I’m expressing, and the shirt (and the face) might suffer a lovely spray of cat urine.
- Help my techs pick up a sick dog and put him on the X-ray table? Any number of canine body fluids could christen my clothes.
Is It Because Most Vets Are Women?
I have often wondered if people feel more comfortable commenting on a woman’s attire than on a man’s. We have a male practice manager who has begun to wear ties and a new male technician who wears black scrubs every day.
And guess what? People feel completely comfortable commenting on Andy’s ties and telling Pat he shouldn’t wear black because it shows too much dog hair.
- “Andy, you look so fancy today.”
- “Pat, I can’t believe you’re wearing black.” (Pat is from New York, too. Black is the only color we know.)
So people feel there is gender equality when offering opinions about how we all look. I guess that’s cool. But then are we all being objectified?
Here are some other thoughts on veterinary dress codes:
The Veterinarian/Client Bond
Would patients comment on their ophthalmologist’s couture during their eye exam? Does a guy say to his urologist, “My, what an interesting choice of shirt for my prostate exam”?
When clients talk about my clothes, I think it shows they care. They care about me. They feel comfortable enough to be personal. And this strengthens the human bond we have and the bond I have with their pet.
If I’m wearing a black skirt, they are concerned their dog’s hair might ruin my outfit. Some people are also embarrassed about how their pet might behave, so they may express some anxiety by saying, “Oh, I didn’t brush him enough. Now your pretty shirt is covered with hair.”
The answer is that I should just wear scrubs or khakis every day of my life. But that’s no fun! I’m a great shopper. I believe I have developed a special sniffer — my “sale sniff.”
Growing up in NYC, we pride ourselves on getting the best deal. So, to all my great and caring clients who worry about my clothes, please don’t worry. I got it wholesale — go poop on it!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Aug. 12, 2015.