The Impact of Veterinary Staff's Physical Appearance on Pet Owners' Perception and Patient Comfort

Posted by Brett Bingham on Wed, 08/30/2023 - 12:25pm
veterinarian holding dog

When it comes to the care of animals, we want nothing but the best. Every aspect matters. One often overlooked yet significant factor in this equation is the physical appearance of veterinary staff. Surprising as it may seem, how veterinary professionals present themselves can significantly influence pet owners' perceptions and a pet's comfort level, ultimately impacting the overall experience. Let’s delve into why the physical appearance of veterinary staff matters and why it's crucial for them to put effort into their presentation.

As veterinarians, we “want” our clients to solely judge us by our professional clinical and surgical skills. And we can feel it’s unfair, immature, and just wrong to be judged by any other standard, especially our appearance. The problem is that our clients don’t know our professional skills when they first meet us, so they use the one thing they can use to judge us- our appearance. If it doesn’t meet their standards, they may not give us a chance to demonstrate our professional skills. As unfair, immature, or as wrong as it may be, this is the reality we must accept and learn to use to our advantage. 

The Power of First Impressions

We've all heard the saying, "First impressions are lasting impressions." This phrase holds true in many aspects of life, and the veterinary world is no exception. When a pet owner walks into a clinic, the first thing they encounter is the staff. Their attire, grooming, and overall presentation play a pivotal role in shaping the initial perception. A well-groomed and professional appearance can create an immediate sense of trust and credibility.

Building Trust and Confidence

For pet owners, their animals are cherished family members. They're not just seeking medical care but also a sense of assurance that their pets are in capable hands. A neat and tidy appearance from veterinary staff can boost confidence in the clinic's professionalism and expertise. Conversely, a disheveled or unkempt appearance might lead to doubts about the staff's competence and the clinic's overall standards.

Reflecting Professionalism

Veterinary care requires a high level of competence, empathy, and commitment. Just as doctors and nurses in human medicine wear uniforms and adopt a professional appearance, veterinary staff should do the same. A clean and uniform appearance communicates a sense of order, discipline, and dedication to the job. This professionalism extends beyond appearance and can contribute to efficient workflows and a well-organized clinic environment.

A 2020 study surveyed 505 pet owners regarding their perceptions of clinicians based on attire. Respondents reviewed photos of faceless Caucasian men and women in both blue surgical scrubs and business casual attire—with and without an added white coat—and rated their comfort interacting with and perceived competence of clinicians. Higher levels of comfort and competence were associated with surgical scrubs versus business casual clothing. The addition of a white coat increased comfort level with clients but consequently decreased comfort for patients.

Providing a Calm, Comfortable Environment for Patients

In the study previously mentioned, they pointed out that the experience of veterinary patients should also be considered when it comes to physical appearance. A white coat enhanced owner opinion, but patients tended to experience “white coat syndrome,” in which fear, anxiety, and hypertension were associated with the presence of a white coat. Although this concept is extrapolated from human medicine, the absence of a white coat may reduce stress in veterinary patients who have had a previously negative experience with a human in a white coat.

This is why my veterinary hospital staff never wear white. It’s part of our dedication to being a fear free hospital and contributes to our fear free certification.

Fostering Positive Communication

Effective communication between veterinary staff and pet owners is essential. Pet owners need to understand their pet's condition, treatment options, and post-care instructions. A polished appearance can create a favorable impression, making pet owners more likely to trust and engage in meaningful conversations with the veterinary team. Clear communication builds rapport and helps pet owners make informed decisions for their pets' well-being.

Instilling a Sense of Care

Pets are more than just animals; they are companions that bring immense joy to their owners' lives. Veterinary staff who make the effort to present themselves well demonstrate that they understand and respect the emotional bond between pets and their owners. This can foster a sense of care and compassion that goes beyond the clinical aspect of treatment.

The Importance of Consistency

Consistency in appearance is key. A clean and professional appearance should be maintained across all staff members. This consistency ensures that pet owners experience the same level of professionalism and care regardless of whom they interact with within the clinic.

While it's undeniable that skills, knowledge, and expertise are the foundations of veterinary care, the importance of physical appearance should not be underestimated. A well-presented veterinary staff can establish trust, foster positive communication, and reflect the professionalism and care that pet owners and their companions expect and deserve. As the saying goes, "Dress how you want to be addressed." Veterinary professionals who put effort into their physical appearance are not only enhancing their own image but also contributing to a more positive and reassuring experience for pet owners and their companions.

Dr. Brett Bingham, DVM

Dr. Brett Bingham, DVM


In the early years of my veterinary practice, I learned the hard way that unintended bad communication can derail your best intentions. Through trial and error, I developed a communication course for myself and my veterinary team to develop confidence and success in the exam room. You can learn these powerful principles too! When great communication practices are put in place AND practiced regularly, you will see consistent growth, happier clients, and better job satisfaction.

Allow me to teach you the tools I’ve learned so that your practice can grow too.

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