Objective: The purpose of this study was to use an experimental design to determine the effect of selected aspects of dress on the professional image of physicians in an adult outpatient setting by those who use the health care services the most (55+), the least (18 to 22), and other physicians on whom we depend for referrals.
Methods: Ten slides of physicians representing a variety of ages; ethnic and religious affiliations were shown to 3 populations across the United States and Canada. Set 1 (N = 216) was shown to undergraduates and rated on 10 attributes of professional image. Two slides were altered and retested in a rotated order (Set 2). Set 1 was then tested with groups of elderly and surgeons (N = 277).
Results: Significant differences were found between Set 1 and Set 2 for the altered physician slides. There was high correlation of professionalism with the identified attributes for all 3 rater populations. The nonverbal attributes chosen for this study did accurately assess "professionalism." Gender of the rater or physician did not have any effect. Although the most "professional" surgeon was the oldest in the study, the second most "professional" was the youngest.
Conclusions: It is clear that a surgeon's image is a mirror of competence, trust, expertise, and compassion. The variables described in this study may easily be implemented to reflect a more positive professional image with our peers and patients than simply adding a white coat. No one goes to see a surgeon to establish a casual relationship, and because it is difficult to counteract initial impressions, attention to these variables is important.