You're a pharmacy professional: Dress like one

October 16, 2014

The Einstein defense applies only to Einstein. The rest of the world does not get a pass.

Many pharmacists still feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of healthcare. But how we are valued starts with what we show other people. JP wrote about it in “Pharmacy 101: Don’t turn off the patients.” The principle applies to professional relationships as well. 

In my previous job as pharmacist at a small community hospital, I served as preceptor to five or six PY2 and PY4 students each year. It was a rewarding but exhausting experience, so I’m thankful that I’m not technically a preceptor in my new job, at a slightly larger community hospital. These days, I get to do some active precepting when I have the time, and I try not to miss teachable moments that pop up, but the two or three students we have each month are ultimately someone else’s responsibility.

This has turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I can put my main focus on patient care and my own professional development. On the other hand, it means I can’t force any of these students to read the book Dress for Success.

Yes, I realize that particular book was extremely controversial when it was first published and is now a little outdated, but I’ve yet to find any other book or approach that better expresses to students the idea that like books, we are all being judged by our covers, so to speak.

Dress for Success used psychological studies based on actual science to determine how to best manipulate someone’s first impression of you. In short, don’t wear orange if you are appearing in court.

Cry foul if you will, but I hold that book singularly responsible for my career trajectory.

 

Not a good look

Long ago and far away, I took a job with a hospital pharmacy management company as a floating staff pharmacist. I was hired because I held several state licensures and was willing to take a job that involved 100% travel. I certainly was not hired for my work wardrobe.

I landed in a hospital in Georgia, where the assistant director of pharmacy had quit on a Friday and I was expected to assume his role the following Monday. I was four years out of school, had less than a year of hospital experience, and I was scared. A male colleague sent me a copy of Dress for Success and attached a note that said, “Fake it till you make it.”

Before you roll your eyes and move on to the next article, think about it. We all know a physician or a pharmacist who wears wrinkly Hawaiian shirts with stained trousers and whose hair looks like it was brushed with an eggbeater. What was your first impression of that colleague? Did you really think that person was as intelligent or knowledgeable as later experience revealed? I assure you, the Einstein defense applies only to Einstein.

At the risk of sounding uncool, I will just go ahead and tell you that I don’t care what you scored on the NAPLEX - iron your shirt and comb your hair.

When you show up at work looking like a slob, you're sending a message that you don't respect your colleagues enough to dress like a professional in their presence. They'll get the message all right, and they won't like it. They will feel dissed. And how do you think that will make them feel about you?

 

By the book

I read that book from cover to cover and made the decision to start dressing as if I gave a damn about my job and as if maybe I knew what I was talking about.

I also made a conscious effort to eradicate words from my professional vernacular such as “awesome” and “dude.”

I was blessed - or cursed - with looking far younger than my chronological age; I realized that if I didn’t want to be treated like a 20-something fresh out of school, I needed to stop looking and talking like one.

Another thing - I stopped introducing myself to physicians and nurses as just “Kelly.” I’m not Madonna and I do in fact have a last name.

These were calculated choices I made, in order to advance professional working relationships at the hospital where I worked. I didn’t do this only for my own benefit. Ultimately it was for the benefit of my patients.

I know I can dose antibiotics better than the average physician, but the average physician doesn’t know that, so it becomes part of my job to gain physician trust. If the average physician can discern a patient’s chief complaint in under two minutes, I estimate that I have approximately 30 seconds before an assessment of my skills and dependability as a pharmacist has been cemented in that physician’s mind. I need to put those 30 seconds to the best use possible, which includes instantly communicating through my appearance that I respect myself and the people I’m dealing with.

 

 

Work it

I like to think I did well at that initial management assignment, well enough that management was all I did from then on, throughout my tenure with that company. I certainly don’t attribute all or even most of my success to fancy suits or polished shoes, but these are things that force us to take ourselves and our careers seriously, which in turn forces our colleagues to take us seriously.

Today, I can’t directly tell the female students at the hospital to stop dressing as if they are headed to “da club,” but I can set a good example for them. Which is all the excuse I need to reread my weathered copy of Dress for Success, polish my shoes, and wear blue on the days I know I will have interactions with physicians.

Kelly Howardis a collar-wearing, iron-wielding freelance pharmacist living and working in Southeastern N.C. She welcomes feedback atkelly@gottsman.org or www.thefreelancepharmacist.com