“Business Casual” Explained & Dress Code Tips for IMGs

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The importance of attire choices for health-care personnel is two-fold. First, there can be problems of infection transfer due to physicians’ wardrobe; the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) reviews possible issues such as cross-contamination when medical doctors wear long-sleeved coats (Bearman et al., 2014). Second, medical professionals must be sure to have a well-groomed appearance in order to be perceived professionally by the patients who enter into their care. For international medical graduates (IMGs), these individuals may struggle to determine how to best present themselves. This new cultural embrace has requirements for maintaining a healthy and professional environment. In order to put their best foot forward, IMGs need to examine common dress code options in the United States, as well as how patients within American culture will perceive these apparel options.


Some tips about Dress code:

Beyond simply presenting an image of being well-groomed, doctors can change patient perceptions based on various different professional clothing types. Some of these clothing types are common around the world. In a South Korean study, researchers examined patient reactions to four different attire choices by doctors: business casual, professional suit, traditional dress, or a white coat (Chung et al., 2012). This study showed that the patients viewed the doctors as more skilled in their fields when the doctors wore white coats. Additionally, the study also demonstrated that the patients believed that doctors who wore the traditional dress option were able to communicate on a personal level and create an overall more comfortable environment (Chung et al., 2012).

While some IMGs may seek to buy more expensive business casual clothes to present a more successful first appearance, simpler is better. Within the United States, several research studies on the dress code of medical professionals have indicated that patients associate medical competency with the physician choice to wear white coats despite the fact that these patients were informed that long-sleeved coats could potentially carry a greater risk of transmitting infection (Landry, Dornelles, Hayek, & Deichmann, 2013). These American patients also felt more comfortable when talking with a doctor who was wearing a white coat (Landry, Dornelles, Hayek, & Deichmann, 2013). Keep this in mind, IMGs should focus on the cleanliness and crispness of the white coat over the price tag of their business casual clothes. The familiar figure of a doctor in a white coat is much more prominent in the mind of the patient, than an expensive designer brand professional wardrobe.


More tips and details about Dress Code:

As effective health care personnel, IMGs need to be sure that they take all steps necessary to maintain the best environment for patients’ health while still keeping a professional appearance. They must be sure to include wardrobe choices that encourage patients to see the personnel as competent, such as white lab coats. However, the IMGs may need to make modifications as necessary to ensure that their attire is not the cause for a negative effect to patients’ health (Bearman et al., 2014). For instance, the IMGs could find white lab coats with three-quarter sleeves to detract from the potential to cause cross-contamination (Bearman et al., 2014). Additionally, IMGs need to ensure that their apparel is always kept as clean as possible, both of visible stains and invisible bacteria and other hazardous contaminants.


Overall, IMGs need to be aware of the medical issues that can be caused by attire choices, as well as be aware of cultural perceptions of health-care professional wardrobe selections. IMGs must be knowledgeable of how clothing, such as long-sleeved coats and shirts, can cause cross-contamination. Yet at the same time, IMGs must be sensitive to how patients will perceive these medical personnel within the American health-care environment. Ultimately, the IMGs must find a happy medium between medically sound professional attire options and attire choices that are perceived positively within American culture.



Bearman, G., Bryant, K., Leekha, S., Mayer, J., Munoz-Price, L. S., Murthy, R., Palamore, T.,

Rupp, M., & White, J. (2014). Healthcare personnel attire in non-operating-room settings. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 35(2), 107-121. doi: 10.1086/675066

Chung, H., Lee, H., Chang, D. S., Kim, H. S., Lee, H., Park, H. J., & Chae, Y. (2012). Doctor’s

attire influences perceived empathy in the patient–doctor relationship. Patient Education and Counseling, 89(3), 387-391. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2012.02.017

Landry, M., Dornelles, A. C., Hayek, G., & Deichmann, R. E. (2013). Patient preferences for

doctor attire: the White Coat’s place in the medical profession. The Ochsner Journal13(3), 334-342. doi: 10.1043/1524-5012-13.4.573