Dress the Part to Achieve Professional Success

May 2015, Vol 3, No 5 - The First Word
Donald J. Dietz, RPh, MS

As healthcare professionals, our attire can impact our patients’ well-being, protect our personal comfort and safety, and reduce the risk of spreading infectious pathogens.

Dress how you want to be addressed; words to live by in the retail pharmacy. Regardless of whether you are a new graduate still comfortable in informal college attire, or a senior pharmacist who is tired of “getting dressed up,” how you dress affects the way your patients, peers, and superiors view you.

Imagine entering a physician’s office and seeing 2 male physicians. One is dressed in neatly pressed black pants, a collared dress shirt, and tie. The second physician is wearing a faded and stretched-out polo shirt over jeans. Without knowing anything else about these men, who would you rather receive medical advice from? Whether or not it is intentional, people judge others based on their clothing and appearance, and even more so in a professional work environment.

Adhering to a professional dress code is important because of more than just how others may judge you. As healthcare professionals, our attire can impact our patients’ well-being, protect our personal comfort and safety, and reduce the risk of spreading infectious pathogens.

Pharmacy Dress Codes

Some pharmacy chains have dress codes for employees, including pharmacists, students, and technicians. Dress codes are protected by US law, and privately owned companies have a legal right to ask you to follow a dress code. Employees can be fired for not abiding by their company’s dress code, but we would not advocate this as a first offense measure. Requiring separate grooming standards for men and women is also allowed, and does not constitute sexual discrimination. Regardless of gender, frayed, wrinkled, dirty, stained, or torn clothing is never acceptable in the pharmacy setting. Although it may seem like common sense, it must be said that any clothing with words or pictures that could be construed as offensive should not be worn.

Aside from general “dos” and “don’ts” listed in a company’s dress code policy, there are few resources that address the topic of professional attire for pharmacists. A 2012 study in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice examined patients’ attitudes toward community pharmacist attire. Patients stated that they preferred that pharmacists not wear jeans or casual shoes, or have “visible body art.”1 This study found that patients preferred community pharmacists to wear a shirt, tie, dress shoes, white coat, and name tag. Despite patient preference, ties are not always practical—or even preferred—in the pharmacy setting. Because of their tendency to brush across counters, ties can potentially cause contamination issues, and may pick up a great deal of particulate drug matter, unless they are kept tucked inside a white coat.

For women, dress pants or skirts (at or below the knee) are acceptable, as are dress shirts and sweaters. Shorts, mini-skirts, sundresses, tank tops, shirts with plunging necklines, and T-shirts or sweatshirts are not appropriate for the pharmacy setting.

Focusing on Footwear

What we often hear debated when discussing pharmacy-appropriate attire is footwear. For pharmacists on their feet for 8, 10, or even upwards of 12 hours a day, functionality often trumps fashion. We suggest footwear that is professional, comfortable, and in good condition, including conservative walking shoes, dress shoes, Oxfords, or dress flats. Pharmacists should refrain from wearing flashy athletic shoes, flip-flops, or open-toed shoes.

The White Coat

Finally, we must discuss the white coat. The vast majority of patients surveyed (>86%) in the 2012 study felt that a pharmacist wearing a white coat equated feelings of “comfort, confidence, trust, and professionalism.”1 The key is that it is supposed to be white (ie, the color of a Northeastern blizzard). It should not look like the gray-stained and tattered travesty I once wore while working as an intern. Patients want to know that the pharmacy is clean, and that their prescriptions are being handled in a hygienic way. We suggest having multiple white coats to make frequent laundering easier and less onerous.


Although these guidelines may seem like common sense to many, current cultural norms require that they be repeated. Respect is earned and not given. It may not matter to a patient that you have a doctorate if you dress slovenly. Although dressing the part offers no guarantee, it will get you one step closer to gaining the respect of your patients and your coworkers.


  1. Khanfar NM, Zapantis A, Alkhateeb FM, et al. Patient attitudes toward community pharmacist attire. J Pharm Pract. 2013;26:442-447.
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Last modified: May 27, 2015
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