Your physical appearance—the image and demeanor you present in your work environment—plays an important role in your career. If you aspire to a leadership position or are looking for a new job, be sure to examine your outward style as carefully as you craft your curriculum vitae.
“This is a huge, woefully unexplored way that physicians relate to the world,” says Mary Frances Lyons, MD, an executive search consultant with Witt/Kiefer in St. Louis. “Let’s call it body language. It’s the attitude or deportment you show. If you’re not the most corporate person in the world, you can still appear to be open, enthusiastic about your work, and have integrity.”
Dr. Lyons frequently coaches physician executives before job interviews. She instructs many of them in the basics: standing up straight, making eye contact, smiling, and having a firm handshake. “This is literally your chance to connect with other people,” she says. “Send a signal that you want to connect, that you’re open, and you’ll bring that out in them as well.”
Her advice may seem simplistic, and she agrees. “You can literally learn this stuff in kindergarten—but many physicians don’t do it,” she says. “Their currency of credibility is how smart they are, and they rely on that. The truth is that no one in medical school ever teaches physicians that a large part of their medical success is how they interact with and relate to others—including patients, their boss, payers, and colleagues.” As a clinician, you can get by with minimal social skills or attention to your demeanor, but Dr. Lyons warns, “If you want to move up the food chain, this is professionally important.”
Typically, hospitalists are insulated from the traditional office dress code (i.e., suits and ties and heels), but doctors are not immune to the basic standards of workplace appearance. “For better or for worse, hospital medicine groups are not corporate,” Dr. Lyons points out. “The question is, how do you become corporate enough to get the job offer or the promotion?”