Intended for healthcare professionals

The Patients Perspectives

Sartorial eloquence: does it exist in the paediatrician-patient relationship?

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 24 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1710
  1. T G Barrett, clinical research fellow Institute of Child Health, Edgbaston, Birminghama,
  2. I W Booth, directora
  1. a Department of Clinical Genetics, Birmingham Maternity Hospital, Birmingham B15 2TG
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Barrett.


    Objective: To evaluate children's and parents' perceptions of hospital doctors' attire.

    Design: Questionnaire study asking children and parents to assign positive and negative attributes to five photographs of a male or female doctor dressed formally and informally.

    Setting: Outpatient department, Children's Hospital, Birmingham. Subjects—203 consecutive child-parent pairs attending outpatient clinics over three months.

    Main outcome measures: Children's and parents' preferences, assessed by comparing proportions.

    Results: 70% (286/406) of children and parents rated doctors' dress as important; more children rated it “very important” (27% (54/203) v 14% (29/203), P<0.01, 95% confidence interval for difference 5% to 21%). Of the 99 children responding, 44 regarded the man in white coat as most competent (44% v 20% expected by chance, P<0.01, 34% to 54%) and most concerned (32% v 20%, P<0.01, 23% to 41%). Children also regarded the woman in white coat as most competent; however, male and female doctors in white coats rated lower for friendliness. Asians and regular surgical attenders preferred doctors in white coats. The man in polo shirt and trousers was rated as most friendly (40% v 20% expected by chance, P<0.01, 30% to 50%) and most gentle (37% v 20%, P<0.01, 27% to 46%). The woman in tee shirt and slacks also rated most friendly and gentle; however, both casually dressed doctors rated lower for competence. Parents preferred more casual dress but expressed preferences less strongly, and they poorly predicted which outfits their children preferred.

    Conclusions: Children regard formally dressed doctors as competent but not friendly; they regard casual dress as friendly but not competent.

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