Should Pharmacy Schools Have a Dress Code?

Does a professional dress code improve educational outcomes, or does it put an unfair burden on pharmacy students?

Does a professional dress code improve educational outcomes, or does it put an unfair burden on pharmacy students?

A recent article published in The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education explores the arguments for and against wearing professional attire throughout PharmD programs, including the classroom. The authors noted that students are already expected to dress professionally during introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences, but there’s little data on what it’s like to mandate a dress code for the classroom.

They began a literature search to find articles and information related to adopting a dress code in health profession education.

Some of the pros they found include the following:

1. Professional dress may improve self-perception

One study found that college students reported feeling more responsible, competent, honest, reliable, and hardworking when they dressed professionally for school.

2. Professional attire may lead others to think more positively about the students

Professional attire makes a good first impression. In one study, subjects were asked to describe what they thought of some men and women in different styles. Those who were dressed the most professionally were ranked higher for intelligence and academic achievement.

Thus, if pharmacy students dressed more professionally, they may make a better impression on faculty, college administrators, and external stakeholders.

3. Professional dress may have a positive effect on academics

Dressing up may lead to the Pygmalion effect, which “refers to a phenomenon whereby a teacher’s expectations of a student’s intelligence and ability to achieve subconsciously affects the quality of teaching in that educators teach to their expectations,” the researchers explained.

“Higher teacher expectations and depth at which education is delivered evoked by favorable perceptions may, in turn, positively influence a student’s actual performance,” they added.

Meanwhile, some of the cons in requiring professional attire in PharmD programs include the following:

1. It may be hard to enforce a dress code

Schools would have to decide whether professional attire just means clothing or extends to appearance and hygiene. In addition, a dress code may lead to some problems with consistency. Scrubs may be appropriate for certain pharmacists who work in hospitals, while a polo could be acceptable for someone who works in retail.

2. A dress code may negatively impact students, parents, and faculty

Asking students to dress professionally may lead to financial and emotional burdens. In addition, schools would have to be careful about not offending students with a more fluid gender identity, religious expression, and tattoos.

Faculty may not want to be put in a position to enforce professional dress code in the classroom. Conflicts between students and faculty over attire could potentially lead to lawsuits.

3. It may make more sense to focus on nurturing professional behaviors instead of attire

White coats and professional dress should perhaps be seen solely as symbols of professionalism instead of requirements.

“Professionalism refers to a desired set of behaviors and values, and learning to be professional is more than putting on a required set of clothing,” the study authors wrote.

They concluded that they “found some evidence exists to demonstrate educational outcomes may be enhanced in some educational environments by professional dress, but it is unclear how it extrapolates to PharmD programs. Until this evidence becomes available, disparate policies are likely to continue across pharmacy programs in the United States.”