How veterinarians dress makes a difference to clients

Does the way veterinarians dress affect how clients perceive them? The answer is yes, according to a couple of 2020 studies.

The first, “Investigation of the effects of veterinarians’ attire on ratings of trust, confidence, and comfort in a sample of pet owners in Canada,” published in the June issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association by researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, examined the relationship between how veterinarians dressed and how clients perceived them in terms of trust, confidence, and comfort.

The other study, “Effect of attire on client perceptions of veterinarians,” published in the November issue of The Veterinary Journal by researchers at the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Veterinary Medicine, sought to examine the effect of veterinarian attire and gender on clients’ perceptions of veterinarians.

OVC researchers showed 449 pet owners photographs of male and female veterinarians in eight different outfits that ranged from formal and casual business wear to surgical scrubs to a white lab coat over khaki pants. Participants were then asked to rate their levels of trust, confidence, and comfort.

The UW study showed 505 pet owners eight photographs of male and female veterinarians in four different outfits ranging from business casual to surgical scrubs. The UW study also included a white lab coat in some of the images—worn over scrubs and worn over khaki pants. Researchers then asked participants to rate their level of confidence in the veterinarians.

The findings of both studies were similar.

The OVC study found:

  • 71% of participants believed that a veterinarian’s attire is important
  • Surgical scrubs earned the highest scores for trust and confidence
  • Trust and confidence scores were lowest for veterinarians in formal business wear

Highlights from the UW study include:

  • Surgical scrubs increased the perceived competency of veterinarians compared to business casual
  • Surgical scrubs increased client comfort compared to business casual
  • A white lab coat increased client comfort more than scrubs

In fact, the UW study found that their participants rated veterinarians “significantly higher” in competence and comfort level when dressed in a white lab coat over either surgical scrubs or business-casual attire compared to the same clothing without a lab coat, whereas the OVC study found that surgical scrubs alone inspired the highest ratings for overall trust and comfort.

However, the OVC study did not include an image of a lab coat over full scrubs.

OVC lead researcher Jason Coe, DVM, PhD, a professor of veterinary communications at OVC, told NEWStat that the purpose of the study is not to tell veterinary professionals what to wear: “The study is intended to raise awareness that veterinary attire is a form of nonverbal communication and it would likely benefit veterinary professionals and veterinary practices to consider and reflect on attire as a form of nonverbal communication and the message they may convey to their clients.” How attire is perceived is going to be influenced by factors such as context, culture, relationship, values, and beliefs, he added.

“Our study was only a start, and hopefully gets people reflecting,” Coe said.

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