Hospital Fashion


*The latest fashion on the hospital corridor catwalk*

The latest fashion on the hospital corridor catwalk

Am I getting old? Am I becoming a prude? Am I behind in the fashion trends? Or am I just jealous? I am totally appalled at the attire of the female interns and medical students these days because I have had enough of skimpy dresses, mini-skirts and porn-star platform stilettos in my clinic and ward rounds. I think it is time for me to be a bitchy old female surgeon and write a fashion rule book for my young novices.

Rule # 1 Cover up

There are many reasons why short skirts and low cut tops are just not very practical when you are a doctor. Basically, there is a lot of bending over to do. In clinics, when you have to examine patients, you are constantly bending over. Now, there’s nothing more humiliating than having your undies on display or having your boobs pop out when you are crouched down to look into a patient’s throat. On the ward, when you are taking blood or putting IV cannulae in, again, you are flexing those hips and putting your bum into the air. Don’t forget, usually there’s somebody right behind you, either it be the person accompanying the patient, another doctor, a nurse or even one of your colleagues to enjoy the view of your derrière hanging out under the hems. As for those puppies in front, it is awfully distracting for everyone concerned not to stare at the deep canyons of your v-neck, or the shadows behind an unbuttoned blouse. Imagination of lies beyond those valleys has an uncanny ability to lure one’s attention. Similarly if you are sitting at the desk, short skirts ride up, and a crotch on view is particularly attention-seeking. If you cross your legs to avoid that scenario, the skirt will move up more, displaying the milky-white flesh of your naked thighs, which have a visually enticing power of their own. You want your patient to actually listen to what you are saying? It would be best if you redirect their captivated interest away from your exposed flesh.

So girls, button up, cover up and let those hems down. You don’t want to give your elderly patients a heart attack or the disinhibited psychiatric client a stiffy. Don’t be surprised if one of the 90-year-old’s in the Dementia ward sneaks his hand up your backside, or a 30-year-old in the trauma unit talk to your boobs. The only place where you are safe to prance around half-naked is in the intensive care unit, where the majority of your patients are unconscious.

Oh, and see-through clothing does not equate to covering up, especially when you wear hot pink lacy bras and thongs under a thin white dress. That’s called beach-wear.

Rule #2 Lycra is not attractive

What is the story these days with squeezing your body into clothes two sizes too small a-la-Kardashian style? Trust me, you can look amazing in fitted, tailored clothing that allows you room to move without having to suck it all in with a rigid sheath that makes you look like the Michelin man when you bend over (see? there’s the bending over again).

Tight clothing doesn’t let you move. You would be surprised at some of the positions you may have to be in when you are a doctor. Contortionists only have to hold a position, but doctors not only have to coil into positions that require expertise in a game of twister, but also perform medical feats at the same time. I had to dress a patient’s foot wound once, squatting on the floor with my head upside down. If you are ever involved in chest compressions on a patient who has collapsed on the floor, those tube skirts may not hold when you kneel over the patient with your legs apart, and the bum-hugging pants may split if you have to hunker down to secure an airway.

Also – trust me on this one – tight clothing does not constitute covering up. It can be rather revealing in faithfully outlining certain parts of your anatomy; visible thong lines, beaming headlights and camel toes are just a few things that come to mind; all of which are seriously distracting in life-and-death conversations.

And if you really think that tight clothing flatters your figure, the names whispered behind your back are usually not as complimentary. Health workers love to give each other nicknames, and I really don’t think you would want to be stuck with Dr Bootylicious in a place where you may want to advance your career in the future.

"You will not be going to clinic in that outfit, young lady!"

“You are NOT going to clinic in that outfit, young lady!”

Rule #3 Wear shoes that will save your feet and your patient’s lives

Tottering on 10 inch heels on a surgical ward round is not attractive, especially when you are trying to balance files, clipboards, gloves and your phone. Unlike physician rounds, surgeons don’t round with file-trolleys that you can lean on, and we also walk really fast, as most of us have to get to the operating theatre or clinic by 8am. So if you can’t keep up in those ridiculous shoes, no one will be slowing down for you.

A survey was done to show that 15-20km was the average distance an intern or resident has to walk during a working day. You will soon learn that one of your jobs is being able to be at 3 places at the same time. When they build hospitals, they usually try to put all the surgical clinics, preadmission clinics, surgical wards, and the operating theatres as far away from each other as possible. They also put in ultra-slow lifts that fits no more than 10 people, so you will find yourself racing up and down the stairs out of necessity. The moral of the story, wear shoes that will save your feet, because you still have a long long long way to walk for the rest of your medical career.

Wear something covered. I know some men have feet fetish and find pedicures irresistible, but having glamorous open sandals will not protect your pretty toes. Imagine walking around with vomit between your toes all day or even slipping on pee as you walk. As doctor, you will also be handling a lot of sharps, and having one of your tootsies stabbed with a fallen needle or nail ripped off by a drug trolley may just make it a rather bad day at work that you could do without.

Most of all, if there is a Code Blue (cardiac arrest), you need to run. Murphy’s Law dictates that the area where your patient has collapsed would be the furthermost place from where you are when it goes off and none of the lifts will be working. So, if you are teetering on your heels, you might as well start making your way straight to the morgue. Because by the time you have staggered down there in your stilettos, the patient would have been declared dead and bundled up into a trolley on his way for a coroner’s review.

*This is what happens when you run on stilettos*

This is what happens when you run on stilettos

Rule #4 Hospital lighting is not kind to heavy makeup

Unlike the romantic, flattering illumination of disco and restaurants, the hospital is brightly lit night and day. Hospital fluorescent bulbs do not give a warm soft glow; instead, they paint your skin in a starkly pale blue shade. It is exceptional for clear vision when one is perusing pages and pages of patient charts and examining every abnormality on a patient’s body. It is also particularly revealing for showing up every imperfection of your skin and each granule of make-up. The thicker you lay it on, the harsher it looks, until those dark eye-shadows and red lipsticks become a portrait of Alice Cooper.

alice cooper

The other thing you will learn is that lengthy days are detrimental to your facial palette. What may begin as seductive thick mascara on eyelashes and carefully layered blue shadows on eyelids will become the makings of a vacant racoon stare after 48 hours on-call. The blush would make its way down from the cheekbones to your nose, so you’ll look like you have a runny nose. While the lipstick will either be completely chewed off or will have migrated onto your teeth. Half of your powder and foundation would have rubbed off, so your forehead will be particularly shiny in the brilliant lighting. Overall, the picture becomes rather unappealing even in a horror movie.

Rule #5 There is a reason why we got rid of white coats

White is a colour reserved for dinners without Spaghetti Bolognese and Chilli Crab. White is suitable if you don’t plan to land on the ground while playing tennis, and it is definitely suitable for your wedding unless you have very clumsy relatives.

If you wear white to the hospital, be prepared for it to be used as a virginal canvas for body-fluid-art. Most colours of organic liquids go very well with white. Poo-brown is an earthy contrast to a pale background, although there can be unpredictability to the exact shade and texture depending on the source. While blood-red is always visually stunning when splashed generously, although the colour does turn coppery if left for long periods. Sputum-Green has just enough shade to make a warm pastel base whereas bile from projectile vomiting tends to veer towards turquoise; Pus-yellow can be used to enhance the warm tone of the overall canvas. The sanguine stain of Urine-gold can be a bit tricky to see on white, but sometimes when there is bleeding in the bladder, hues of Haematuria-rosé are a little bit more noticeable. These are often complimented by regular ink-blots made by the leaking pen that never leaves your hand. The beauty of this art-work is that it is eternal; no amount of scrubbing, baking soda, washing powder or dry cleaning will completely removed these physical mementos of how you acquired them.

"I told you not to wear white if you wanted to shoot people."

“I told you not to wear white if you wanted to go out and shoot people.”

Rule #6 More bling, more bugs

I do understand that these days, fashion is all about accessories. Style is almost entirely judged on how people decorate their outfits, rather than the actual garbs. Well, all I can say that you will just have to accept that doctors cannot be part of the current ‘trend’.

Some hospitals have banned ties for men – as it was found to be the main source of cross-contamination between patients. It was not uncommon to see these ties taking a swipe at patient’s groins, or a dip into a pus-filled wound. Nurses can’t wear bangles, bracelets, and rings, because no amount of hand washing will disinfect these as potential bacterial-carrying vehicles.

So, young female doctors and students, I would advise that you leave your blings, danglies, chains and scarves at home – unless you like being a free taxi for bacteria, or keen to bring your work home, literally.

Rule #7 You are not auditioning for a Shampoo commercial

Meredith Grey drives me nuts. I just don’t understand how anyone could see what they are doing with that mousy hair floating around her face constantly. You might think flicking those luxurious locks on ward rounds is eye-catching, until you accidentally smack it into your senior registrar’s face. Long hair has a lot of perils in hospitals. Like the tie, it can take a dunk into cavities where you may not want it to go. You could inadvertently tickle your patient when you are bending over the patient (there it is again!). It could get caught on bed rails, IV poles, monitoring lines and plaster saws (yep, seen that happen). When you are doing a procedure, hours of preparing a sterile field can be instantly swept away with your hair. Bangs and hair in the eyes can also be detrimental to your vision, which may not be so helpful when you are placing fine stitches or handling fragile body parts.

Tie those loose alluring locks away from your face, ladies – you may find it disadvantageous to your modelling career, but at least it will save your day job.

"Maybe if I cut my hair, people will think I am a real doctor."

“Maybe if I cut my hair, people will think I am a real doctor.”

Now I know these rules are harsh, and I am not aversed keeping up with what’s in vogue. I am as much into the latest trends as the next fashion-conscious female. I am not advocating dressing-down either, as crack-showing skater jeans and ripped off-shoulder T shirts are not exactly confidence-inducing attire for the sick and injured. There are ways to look beautiful without being inappropriate, it is about retaining your individuality in the role you have picked to play in society. You have chosen to become a doctor, not a model, not a tart, and definitely not a hooker.

Just remember, the hospital is not a night-club. You are not going on a date (and if you are, it is rather sad you are having it in a hospital, so get a life!), neither are you selling your ‘wares’, and advertising your ‘goods’. If you are dressing up to snare a rich doctor husband, you would be setting your trap for the wrong kind of men. There are plenty of playboys in the medical faculty, as there is definitely no shortage of male doctors who think they are God’s gift to women. These ‘hot’ charismatic egomaniacs are more interested in the junk in your trunk and the boobies in your bra than your personality. They are more concerned in accumulating notches on their belts, and having available booty-calls on speed-dial, than learning about your aspirations. You would be mistaken if you think by attracting their attention, they will be willing to marry you/help you get the job you want/get you out of trouble/recommend you for a promotion.

I am not suggesting that we should masculinise our appearance, but there are ways of being feminine without flaunting ‘sexuality’, and being gorgeous without over-embellishment. Dressing elegantly in appropriate attire will go a long way to instil confidence in your patients. Your seniors will take you seriously and be more than willing to share their knowledge with you. It will not upset the nurses (who are stuck in unflattering uniforms with colours that make them look like tampon packages), and draw attention away from those higher up the ladder than yourself. And believe it or not, professional dressing will actually make you sound smarter than you really are. You want the men to stop ogling at you; you want them to look at you in awe.

So, Ladies, save your reputation, your career, your feet and your patient’s lives. Next time you pick your apparel for work, channel classics such as Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.

JackieOnassisAudrey HepburnGraceKelly


23 thoughts on “Hospital Fashion

  1. Great post !

    I find it very very hard to dress “appropriately” while being a student. I don’t want to be stuck in black trousers/black shirt all day but I don’t have the legitimacy of the consultant/ don’t want to overshadow her so in a way, I have to find the right balance between staying true to my style/personality and not being better dressed than the consultant which sometimes definitely put me in a tough spot. I don’t know why but most of the female consultants I have worked with dress like men or have a really awful sense of style…this does not translate well once they leave the room (ie patients make fun of them).

    It is also very weird how different it is: in France there is no dress code, in the UK & the US there seem to be one. My male surgeons in France spend their lives in jeans, my female surgeons wear heels etc.. (no 10cm louboutins but still 5-6 cm) and I am guilty to admit that I definitely trust a better groomed doctor more..

    • I wear 8cm louboutins, but I have had plenty of practice and according to my interns, the fastest walker on heels they have ever seen 🙂 there is no RIGHT dress code, just as long as it’s not inappropriate. I know about the cultural differences, when I was visiting Germany, I was a little shocked when one of the surgeons turned up to clinic in sandals!!!! I wouldn’t worry too much about out dressing female consultants… Most of us just shrug it off as long as it is not inappropriate 🙂

      • That’s great to know because I love dressing well and it has been one of my biggest struggle, trying to blend in. For now my go to outfits have been ballet flats + trousers + a 3/4 sleeves blouse/shirt/short sleeves top. I love colour and I am African so the hardest thing have been to give up on prints & bold and embrace the grey/black/baby pink etc which does not look good on me at all :/… Oh and the V-neck! I am quite busty so I tend to favor V-neck but just like you describe, although mine were not vulgar at all, I just had to give up because even the tiniest thing gave rise to bad jokes. Now it is a round neckline all the way. The other thing is the whole “flowy” top. I have a tiny waist so flowy tops just make me look pregnant but a normal white shirt drew comments too… it seems like one can never win at the hospital! Oh well..maybe when I will become a consultant I will be able to dress without second guessing every outfits (and making my fiance flash test with a camera every work outfits – I am completely paranoid !)

        • I’ve personally decided to give up on “blending in” dress wise because as a Black woman, that’s never going to happen in my career anyway, ROTFL!! So I say dress in what makes YOU feel good, with good taste and professionalism in mind.

  2. To be honest, I really do try and dress down to work. I want absolutely no attention to be drawn to my looks or to the fact that I’m a woman! The problem is not the patients…. Its fellow…well… Forget that!

    It helped.. The male surgeons treated me professionally (for the most part!) and the female consultants approved (irrespective of what THEY wore)…

    Of course, all these years, I did not have to bother. Training years are spent in scrubs and sneakers. And I loved it! The boys considered me to be one among them. I spent my residency years with 15 other guys you see…

    Then when the conferences and parties came… I went all out!

    Now, I dress conservatively …but I my never skimp on my heels! They are my one saving grace!

    • Yep. Me and my Louboutins are inseparable too 🙂 It’s hard to get away only in scrubs when one is a consultant, there is an expectation that as a consultant, I need to have very smart and expensive-looking attire to match the standards of my male colleagues’ bespoke suits.

      • True! I guess it depends on which rung of the surgical ladder you are…

        I’m still fairly close to the bottom….So time to strip off all the frills, put my head down….and work my arse off….

        My time too shall come!!! 😉

  3. I would be terrified of getting body fluids on my Louboutins! They will never see the inside of the clinic or hospital as I am not sure there is enough scrubbing that can be done to sterilize vaginal discharge or poo or puke off my shoes. That being said, I love your wit and biting sarcasm. This should become required reading for all interns!

    • The Louboutins are sturdier than I have given them credit it for. I have been walking around in my black pumps for 12 months and they are still going strong. The patent black makes it easy to clean w alcohol wipes 🙂

  4. Hahahaha. This was great. I know my wife has had sort of some of the same dismay at one of the university english depertments where she teaches. Some of the younger female instructors dress like they are going to a night club. Yeeesh.

  5. Love this! I work with a few nurses that go through the effort of straightening , curling, or putting their hair in a deliberately messy updo in the morning. I have to laugh each time I see them. That anyone actually cares about how pretty they’ve done their hair amazes me. I want to say sometimes, ” Really, really, the person in front of you is sick. They do not care about the time you spent on your hair” : )

  6. Highly entertaining, was laughing the whole way through. And I could not agree more, from a patient’s perspective of course…

    So I guess you guys never have a musical episode piping The Story and How to save a life, as that would be something I would have loved to see in real life.

    Ah well.

  7. Loved it. I can’t relate obviously, neither being female nor a surgeon, but I can relate in how the youngn’s dress these days at work. I am a chef, and so everyone wears a uniform…so we don’t have those issues you speak of (and health and safety issues abound, so much of the bacteria things are similar, plus no hanging stuff – stuff that can drop into a batter of something or into someone’s salad, etc.). But I do see some of how the other boys and girls dress in other departments, and it’s pretty ridiculous at times.

    Professionalism goes a long way. We have to act the part, and be practical. I don’t think fashion has a place in some industries. I sound like an old coot in the same way, but I think the only way they will understand is being shown. Then again…yeah, people treat work like a dating service. That will never go away…lol.

    Great read, my friend!


  8. Love your writing skills Ms Consultant .
    Recently tumbled on your blog and every post is delightful.
    PS. I am sure you have many other amazing skills in your arsenal.

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