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What not to wear

Published on: 18 Nov 2009

Football fan, trend follower or the man in the white coat; although first impressions aren't everything, what you wear can say a lot about who you are. So in a job where dealing with lots of different people is the norm, it's important to get that message right.

The most obvious reason for thinking about clothes is that you need to give the right impression to patients to help you do your job. As the sector moves to develop a more clinical role, it must have a professional image, and patients should see pharmacists as approachable and knowledgeable health professionals. If they don't, they might not ask those all important questions.

As Mimi Lau, director of professional and training services at Numark, warns: "A disorganised and tatty shop can put customers off bringing in their prescriptions, and inappropriately dressed staff can do the same."

And because dress might matter to patients, it matters to employers too, with many companies having specific rules that pharmacists must stick to. Janice Perkins, pharmacy superintendent at The Co-operative Pharmacy, says: "Pharmacists need to look clean, tidy and professional and their clothing and behaviour need to instill confidence in the public while not making them appear unapproachable."

Breaking rules is always a bad move for your career and employers will expect you to make the effort to meet their standards and probably have little sympathy if you don't. As Ms Perkins says: "Smart workwear is available at a very reasonable price from many high street outlets so I don't feel dressing smartly and professionally needs to cost a lot of money." And Kenny Black, managing director at Rowlands Pharmacy, says he once sent a member of staff home as her tangerine Dundee United shirt was too obvious under her overall.

It's not just employers you need to worry about, though; dress the wrong way and you could even find yourself unpopular with the regulator.

The RPSGB has had complaints from patients that pharmacists looked dishevelled and messy, and one inspector says it can make a difference to first impressions.

They added: "It is our experience that there can be a correlation between sloppy appearance and sloppy practice."

So with all these people to please, how should pharmacists be dressing in the 21st century?

Perhaps the first thing to think about is practicality. When you're on your feet all day, wearing something comfortable can make the difference between a good and a bad day.

Health and safety is also worth bearing in mind. High heels or footwear with open toes or straps might increase your chances of having an accident. And as Salim Jetha, CEO at Avicenna, points out, clothing that is likely to get caught on shelf corners should be avoided. Mr Jetha adds: "There are also some reports that ties and white coats can be infection carriers in hospitals but, unless we are doing heavy clinical work, I am not aware of such evidence in a community setting."

Practicality needs to be balanced with professionalism, though, and trying to work out how others will perceive your clothes can be a complex matter. As one Society inspector found: "I remember when I had been qualified a couple of years, the fashion was all about coloured tights and I wore a green pair to work which co-coordinated with a very smart outfit - only to be told by a scruffy, elderly gentleman pharmacist that they weren't appropriate!"

But there are some obvious rules you can follow, and pharmacists should certainly try to look smart and tidy at all times. Mr Jetha cautions against being too formal, for example, ruling out a three-piece suit with silk tie and handkerchief, and at the other end of the spectrum most people would frown upon a pharmacist wearing trainers (see Pharmacy fashion: the verdict, left). General scruffiness, such as unironed or dirty clothes, are also a bad idea.

If in doubt, use your common sense and the most important thing, for both patients and your career, is to realise that work clothes can matter and to think about them.

As Mr Jetha advises: "The acid test is to look at the customer's perspective - if you were at the receiving end, how would you expect the pharmacist to present him/herself to you?"