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A practitioner ponders

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It was Mark Twain who said ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society’ and, although he was speaking more than 100 years ago, it seems to me that – his rather obvious gender bias aside – it holds true for veterinary practice as much as any other part of society today.

We have always attempted to ensure staff dress in a professional manner, which means bottle-green uniforms for the nurses, white tunics for the vets, and sweatshirts with the practice name on for all front desk personnel. But, this morning, yet another glossy brochure arrived on my desk, a work wear catalogue full of what is now apparently suitable apparel for modern vets. This prompted suggestions from certain staff members that we need to update our uniforms, for it would seem that it is no longer sufficient to be smartly dressed – we need to be seen wearing the latest fashion. From the brochures it would appear that there are various options, one of which is brightly coloured tunics covered in smiling cartoon animals. And if you want to go the extra mile, surgical clogs decorated with paw prints or zebra stripes are the must-have accessory.

Now, setting aside the cost implications of kitting out an entire practice workforce with new clobber, there seem to be several matters to consider before we gaily divest ourselves of the green uniforms or white tunics. Should we go for the cartoons, and look as if we've strayed out of a child's comic? Maybe we should opt for coloured overalls – in-your-face purple, a becoming royal blue, or a primrose yellow – which may at least avoid ‘white-coat syndrome’ in our patients, although garish tunics may simply mean pets will show ‘coloured-coat syndrome’ instead. Or do we go for the smart but dressed down image, choosing polo shirts, quilted waistcoats and matching baseball caps in the practice colours, complete with our logo on everything? Do we then get everyone's name embroidered on their clothes? This would at least stop moans about uniforms getting mixed up in the wash – but what if a staff member leaves as soon as their work wardrobe has been personalised for them? And, if we do put the practice name on garments, do we then need to consider how to dispose of them when they've reached a state where they are no longer smart? Should we cut the logo out before binning them? Or even burn the clothes to ensure they don't end up in a charity shop, in case some member of the public ends up parading around town in tatty practice clothes (or, worse, discover that someone is wearing them to imply that they work for the practice)?

Now, having started on this topic I had worried that I may not, as it were, have enough material to allow me to stitch together a column about clothing, but in fact it would seem that there's more than enough, and I've managed to cover everything of importance. Mr Twain, I presume, would be very relieved.

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