In my first 3-4 years as a Dentist, and prior to purchasing my own practice, I found one of the biggest challenges to be earning patients' trust and respect as a young practitioner. Adding to the magnitude of the challenge is the fact that people have always told me that I look very young for my age. I am 38 years old and, last week while at the hospital for a gastroscopy (definitely not an elective procedure), the nurse took a double-take at my chart and told me: "Thirty-eight? I thought you were about twenty-five! Good work, my friend!". For the most part, I feel fortunate to continue to look younger than I am. However, when you are giving people advice about costly procedures that relate to their own health, a youthful look is not always a blessing. Here's an easy thing you can do to improve the way you appear to your patients...
Dress Up Each and Every Day!
Many may disagree but appearances and visual cues still matter a whole lot to just about everybody. We all have assumptions that we make about people, places and things based on how they appear. In many cases, we make these decisions rapidly and outside of our conscious awareness. These kinds of decisions affect willingness to try certain new things and to listen to advice from new people. As a Dentist, I have worked in clinical scrubs, golf shirts and khaki pants, and 3-piece suits at different times in my young career. I can tell you that, when I looked my absolute best on the job, I faced very little to no resistance from patients regarding advice and treatment recommendations. That is not to say that patients agree with everything that I say or recommend when I am wearing a suit, but if they do have a different thought, opinion, or strategy, the way that they communicate it is completely different. Specifically, they communicate with you on at least an equal ground. When you look young and are dressed like everyone else in the clinic (i.e. hygienists, assistants, etc.,) you are likely to be viewed by patients as less of an authority.
Part of this, I believe, is derived from what many older adults grew up seeing as the prototypical Doctor or Dentist. As a child and teenager, my Dentist wore a white coat over a shirt and tie. When coming in, in the morning or leaving for the day, he had a suit jacket on over the shirt and tie. That visual information conveyed professionalism. It was also valuable because it made us patients aware (probably without even being conscious of it) that he was the Dentist and the top authority at the clinic. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that is incredibly important. Don't get me wrong, it is important to earn patient trust and respect through sound judgement, honesty and transparency as well. But, I think that first impressions matter, visual cues still rule how we think about our world, and so dressing up for work will make it easier on you with your patients in the long run.
Thanks for reading my short post this month. Please leave some comments and let me know what you all think of my perspective!
Kyle Hornby, DDS
Danube Dental Clinic
77 Water Street N