What to Wear to Work?

I remember way back when studying physiotherapy, it must have been third year when we went into clinical placements and I was assigned to St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. I was so excited, not because I was finally being let-loose on unsuspecting patients, but because I got to wear a white coat.

No, not a coat. We had white lab coats for anatomy dissection and physiology labs since first year. This was a white jacket. It was like what my dentist wore – half length, button up front at the side which continued to the neckline. A proper medical, clinical, ‘I know stuff’ type of jacket. It must be like when med students are handed their first stethoscope to hang around their neck announcing them as a doctor.

The difference was that, once graduated, I never wore the white jacket again. Whereas medical students continue to wear a stethoscope for their entire medical career or until they become specialists. And not only in the wards, they wear their official ‘Doctor Scope’ to the café, to meetings, when driving home and even (while still students of course) on public transport. Just so they do not forget they are a doctor.

Apropos of that, I have been thinking of what physios wear when working in private practice. I have written about this before in relation to how you present yourself to clients, referrers, and staff as a function of what you expect to be paid. It is probably time to update that, but this article relates to the current pandemic situation.

Do you wear your street clothes while treating patients? Do you travel to the clinic, pick up a coffee, fuel the car, drop the kids at school and then start treating patients in the same clothing? Then return home via the supermarket, bottle shop, child minding facility and resume your domestic life in those same clothes? How does this fit with COVID level hygiene practice? Your hands might be clean due to repeated washing and sanitising, but how any times per day do you touch your clothing? And does your clothing contact patients or other equipment in the course of your work? Are you potentially bringing contamination from work into your home and family?

While not wanting to seem alarmist or paranoid, maybe it is time to consider separating our street clothes from our treatment clothes on the basis of hygiene or perceived hygiene.

A simple white jacket (or pastel blue or navy) over the top of street gear might be the simplest strategy. Wear it in the clinic for a day or so then launder (may need a few of them). Or a uniform that you change into on arrival and remove before departure from work. Or scrubs. Seriously, scrubs?

Scrubs are the new stethoscope. Wearing scrubs says, ‘I can save your life’. On the USA show ‘The Doctors’ the medicos wear scrubs to sit in a TV studio and discuss health issues. Physios working on the wards in many hospitals are now wearing scrubs. They come to work, change into these strikingly fashionable garments, do their day’s work, change out, bin them and head to the pub.

I am not advocating scrubs in a physio private practice, but then again – why not? They allow comfort and flexibility when moving from plinth to gym work and with clear branding (company) and name tagging they establish the professional role and associated behavioural expectations. Additionally, the time saved every morning when deciding what to wear would be considerable.

What you wear is up to where you work. It may be determined by climate, nature of the client base, image of the practice or simply historical habit. You may be instructed to meet a dress code standard, provided with a uniform, or just left to your own professional judgement. Now might be an opportune time to evaluate the role of your treatment clothes in the patient/therapist interface in terms of hygiene and protection for both you and the client. Don’t even start me on bandanas and footwear.