Successful Doctor Marketing: Beyond the White Coat

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

younger male doctor smiling, patient in hospital bed in the backgroundAs you might suspect, my work frequently brings me face-to-face with doctors and other healthcare professionals who want to market a medical practice. One thing I’ve observed is that, regardless of gender, successful physicians, surgeons and top-line staff invariably dress for success.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to visit with practitioners in hospitals, group practices and smaller practices and, with rare exception, there’s an implied connection between success in business and attire that communicates success.

My experience and observations are not scientific, but here’s how it relates to medical marketing, and making a positive impression with patients and colleagues.

Doctors begin with an advantage. The public in general, and patients in particular, afford an extra measure of respect to the role of “doctor” in American society. It’s an “anticipated impression” that occurs prior to the actual patient encounter. And when reality reinforces the mental expectation, it validates and continues the positive impression.

White Coat or Business Attire? Although the white coat is the traditional (and still common) doctor-wear, the “white coat syndrome” can be a genuine barrier to patient communications and engagement.

The highly respected Mayo Clinic has a carefully articulated (17 page) Dress and Decorum Policy for all employees, trainees, students and volunteers. For doctors, the guidance eliminates white coats in favor of business attire in order “to build relationships with patients and families,” and as “visual and experiential clues to tell a compelling story to customers.” [Harvard Business Review]

Although efforts to enhance patient experience tend to avoid traditional white coats, the bottom line is that:

(a) Appearance, attire and demeanor make a difference, and

(b) Clothing the doctor wears can support or undermine the message of success.

If you want “up-scale” cases, dress for “upscale” clientele. Clients often tell us they want to enhance their business mix with more upscale patients and cases. An important component to success is having an upscale appearance and reputation.

Patients take a greater measure of confidence in trusting doctors who present an appearance of success. For upscale patients, a provider’s upscale appearance implies a message of achievement and an ability to answer the patient’s needs.

Effective marketing for a physician’s practice includes how you “dress for success,” and how appearance—of the provider and staff—influences the patient’s impression, their ability to relate and communicate, and creating a long-term relationship.

There are many other factors of course, and clothing alone doesn’t make the doctor. It’s reasonable to think that there isn’t a perfect formula for attire that fits everyone. But the highly successful doctors that we know use their attire and appearance as a tool to communicate a message of confidence, respect and achievement.

It’s a continuing means to extend their professional reputation, brand, and positive relationship with patients and colleagues. What’s more, individuals who seek greater success adopt the attire of “the next level.”

And finally, people we’ve met whose attire does not reflect or imply success…well, it often means they are still attempting to climb the ladder of success.

Bernadette Wilson, MBA

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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