No, The Clothes Don't Make The Rad

February 7, 2018

Are dress-code rules really necessary?

Long-term readers of this column will know that I’ve been working-from-home as a telerad for several years. At this point, that’s slightly more than half of my total post-fellowship career. More than occasionally, I’ve used this column to point out some of the pros and cons of telerad as a career-move.


One of the facets upon which I haven’t much bothered to focus is attire, mostly because that’s the bit that everyone knows, and not just in our field. It’s a trite almost-joke: If you work from home, the assumption is that you’re in your pajamas all day, or maybe a robe and fuzzy slippers. Nobody’s going to see you, so no need to look presentable.


Unless, that is, if you personally enjoy or otherwise benefit from it. I’ve heard of folks-at least one successful writer whose name escapes me at the moment-who make a point of dressing for work. Even though they are just sitting at a keyboard in their homes and interacting with nobody, they make a point of grooming and dressing as if they were going to an office. It helps them get in their chosen frame of mind for a good, productive day. I think that’s just fine, for those so inclined.


I’m not one of those folks, and neither I suspect are most telerads. When I’m working at home, I tend to wear scrub-pants-far more than I ever did when working in hospitals, actually-accompanied by old t-shirts that I still find comfortable if not particularly stylish. Sufficient attire for answering the door or being seen through a window by my neighbors.


Lest it need saying, this was not the case when I commuted to imaging-centers or hospitals for my previous, more conventional gigs. I’m no maven of style, but I had a sense of what was reasonably expected from the folks paying my salary. Even if I spent 99 percent of my day sequestered in a dark reading-room somewhere, there would still be moments when patients, other docs, ancillary staff, etc. could see me coming and going, and it wouldn’t do to have a supposedly capable/respectable doc strolling about in, say, Bermuda shorts and sandals.
One might hope for everyone’s ideas of reasonable work-attire to easily mesh, begetting a certain live-and-let-live philosophy as long as nobody turns up looking bizarrely out of step with everyone else. (Such individuals would presumably prove adaptable after a discreet word in private.) The exception would be, say, the military or some other environment where uniforms arguably matter.


Such a laissez-faire attitude is not for everyone, it seems, and I’ve encountered more than one workplace where a greater degree of control has been exerted from the top. The rules have varied with the place and time: Thou shalt not wear scrubs outside of procedures. Men must wear ties. Labcoats required (or verboten; I’ve seen both). I won’t get into the matter of worn IDs, which is a whole different subject.


I’m sure at least some of the folks issuing these marching orders believe that they are accomplishing something beyond demonstrating their authority. Perhaps they believe that, since they personally feel more professional and/or productive when dressed a certain way, others will too. Maybe they just think it looks good for the whole practice to be decked out a certain way. Or they, personally, don’t much care, but worry about the perceptions of outsiders (job applicants, visiting referrers, administrators, etc.)


I wonder how many of them take the next mental step and think about what might be lost by trying to exert such control. At the simplest level: What if some of your rads don’t want to wear the ties, labcoats, etc. you have required? Maybe they find the things uncomfortable, or a nuisance. Some of them might have read that, in healthcare, the things are germ-sponges and best not used.


Perhaps some of the rads, considering themselves every bit as educated and professional as whoever took it on themselves to write up a dress code, will be a little miffed at the intrusion. Maybe they already have the sense that there are a few too many needlessly intrusive rules and regulations in the place, and the dress code risks being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Are such things worth risking another siphoning of their morale?