Scrub the tight scrubs? A conflict over veterinary workplace attire

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Scrub the tight scrubs? A conflict over veterinary workplace attire

What do you do when an employee's appearance creates a distraction in the veterinary clinic? An edgy but necessary dilemma.
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May 03, 2018

Don't say anything. Don't say anything. Just ... no. (Shutterstock.com)“Dr. Doyle Veterinarian” is what the practice’s original sign said. Now 27 years later, with a staff of five doctors, 12 technicians and five receptionists, the clinic name still remains Dr. Doyle Veterinarian.

The practice is located in an upscale metropolitan suburb, with a clientele that demands high-quality pet care and a comfortable clinic. Veterinarians are required to wear white lab coats with their names on the breast pocket. Veterinary technicians wear scrubs with the clinic name and logo tastefully displayed. Dr. Doyle provides this specialized staff clothing. He feels that this dress code demonstrates both a professional image and the impression that they are a team.

Tailor-made problem

Lisa is a new technician at the practice. Her credentials, practice experience and references are impeccable. After her initial training, she’s given her practice scrubs and first month’s schedule. She’s already well-liked by her coworkers and anxious to get started.

Lisa reports to work the next morning with a startling adjustment to her apparel. She had altered her clinic scrubs, tailoring them to be more form-fitting than normal surgical scrubs, which tend to fit like loose pajamas. It should be noted that Lisa's new scrubs did not feature a plunging neckline or cover less of her body than those of her coworkers. They just fit more closely.

Her striking attire generated attention from some “admiring” clients.

Lisa and her attire create a bit of a buzz around the clinic from the other team members. In addition, her striking appearance generates attention from some “admiring” clients. Dr. Doyle, the only man among the 22 team members, has a problem. He sees Lisa’s altered uniform as a clinic distraction and schedules a time to speak with his new technician.

Who’s changing for whom?

As always, Dr. Doyle is professional yet direct. He tells his new technician that her altered scrubs are a distraction and drawing unnecessary attention from staff members and clients.

This isn’t her issue, she says, but rather undisciplined, immature behavior on the part of others.

Lisa is assertive but respectful in her reply. She tells Dr. Doyle her scrubs fit no differently than a woman’s business suit in a professional workplace. She goes on to say that this “distraction” isn’t her issue but rather the result of undisciplined, immature behavior on the part of others. Dr. Doyle understands her position but says that, regardless, a distraction exists, and he wants it remedied.

Lisa responds that she respects the practice and enjoys her work, but she doesn’t feel it’s fair to blame her for this. They end the meeting amicably.

Dr. Doyle debates drawing a line in the sand for his technician but decides not to. He informs his staff that any comments concerning staff appearance that aren’t in violation of clinic policy are unprofessional and should cease. He assumes Lisa will deal with any unwanted attention from clients in a professional manner. He realizes that in 2018, not only does he have to pick his battles; he has to evaluate the integrity of the battles themselves.

Was this a good fight for Dr. Doyle to duck? Let us know at [email protected].

Dr. Rosenberg’s response

On one hand, the unisex look of baggy scrubs in the close working environment of a clinic tends to equalize appearances in a practical way. On the other hand, these are professional adults whose individual choices regarding appearance should be respected as long as they’re not violating workplace directives.

I believe this discussion revolves around individual maturity. We are not all the same. It would be unrealistic to believe that neither staff nor clientele notice body differences among employees in the workplace, whether shapeliness or largeness or smallness. It’s the veterinary professional’s obligation to focus on the task at hand and not judge others for things beyond their control.

Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. In his private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife. Although many of the scenarios Dr. Rosenberg describes are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.