Last week, I was discussing 'dress code' for private therapists with a physical therapist friend of mine. Lynn is a contract pediatric physical therapist who does home visits through an Early Intervention. Since she's an independent contractor, she doesn't have a boss or a company that she works for to lay out the rules on a dress code.
The debate was: what should she wear to see her patients? Now, since she's working with young kids and will likely be on the floor quite a bit, she needs to wear something comfortable and durable. In her previous therapy job, she was allowed to wear jeans and sneakers to see patients. As she contemplates her wardrobe for her new position, she is now wondering if she can wear scrubs to work.
Can you wear scrubs to see private patients?
I have mixed feelings on wearing scrubs to see private patients. On one hand, we are in a medical field and our patients expect us to be medical. If you're providing a therapy service and you need to be in clothing that allows you to move freely or that you could get dirty, scrubs are a viable option. However if you don't need to have free range of motion and you're physical interaction with your patients is limited, I don't think that you need to wear scrubs.
Who is your patient and what is their environment?
One aspect to consider is whether you're seeing an adult or pediatric patient and where you are seeing them. Treating an adult in their home is very different than working with a pediatric group at a playground.
How physical are you going to be with the patient?
If you’re a private physical therapist or occupational therapist working on mobility or 'Activities of Daily Living' with your patient, you’re going to want to wear clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement. If you’re a speech language therapist who is working on feeding or swallowing disorders, you’ll also want to take potential messiness factors into account.
Who is the payer?
Another issue for me is related to who the payer is. Most of my private pay as well as patients covered by private insurance are professionals themselves and likely appreciate my looking like a therapy professional. I don't know that I would feel right showing up in scrubs. If you're doing contact work but there is no agency governing you, I suppose it's up to your discretion for what you think fits the situation the best.
You can never go wrong with business casual
When in doubt, I think it's always better to be over rather than under dressed. For me, it makes more sense to be dressed in nice slacks, a shirt or sweater and nice shoes. I have very occasionally worn nice jeans with a nice top and shoes. This happens during weekends or if I was heading somewhere after for which that dress code applied and then I wove into the conversation why I was dressed casually.
Keep your image as a professional
I think that the most important part of this debate is to wear the clothing that you feel goes best with your image as a professional. Maybe scrubs can be as professional looking as slacks and a shirt.
It continues to be important for you to weigh and vary your decision about what to wear based on how much you need to be able to move around with the patient, how messy/dirty you might get with the patient, whether you're seeing an adult or pediatric patient, who is paying for the services and what you feel most comfortable with as a private therapist.
Therapists, what are your thoughts on the dress code?
About the Author: Jena H. Casbon, MS CCC-SLP spends her days treating adults with cognitive-communication disorders and her nights helping fellow speech, occupational and physical therapy providers start and grow their own private practices. Her company, The Independent Clinician, seeks to provide information, community and a confidence boost to those who want to get started treating privately but don’t know how.
Jena’s first book is available now: The Independent Clinician Guide to Private Patients. She is also finishing her second (yet untitled) book for SLP/OT/PT therapists on building a web presence (websites, social media and more) to grow their private practices.
Click here to read more about Jena Casbon, MS-CCC-SLP