What a Thai Hospital taught me about the psychology of dress
Most of the time, June is a pretty uneventful month in my household. This June, however, was anything but…especially when it comes to my husband, Andrew.
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It started with a surprise two week vacation to Thailand and ended with intensive physical therapy and work restrictions including ‘no walking’ and ‘no standing’. In between, there were lots of beaches, a five hour surgery, and one motorbike ride gone terribly awry. While we learned lots from our experience (stay at the beach, don’t ride motorbikes), one of the most interested things I learned had to do with the hospital uniforms. But, I’ll work my way around to that in a minute.
Just an hour before leaving for the airport, I announced to Andrew that we would be heading to Thailand for a two week long stay at an eco-luxury beach resort. We were celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary and our 10 year together anniversary, so I had arranged a surprise trip that fulfilled Andrew’s two biggest wishes: somewhere warm, with a beach. Everything was sunshine and fresh coconuts until we decided to get adventurous and rent motorbikes to ride around the island.
Sunset views at our resort
Needless to say, the whole motorbike thing didn’t end well and Andrew ended up with a dislocated knee, fractured patella, and downright broken tibia. He was strapped to a body board and, two ambulance rides and one 30 minute boat ride later, was emitted to the ER at Bangkok Hospital Phuket. At the hospital, x-rays were taken, a surgery was declared necessary, and within 12 hours Andrew was in a deep slumber for 5 hours dreaming about the resort he was ironically not at. The surgery was followed by a week stay in the hospital and a jump start at physical therapy before catching a flight home.
A rare moment where everyone (including the kids) are wearing helmets. Motorbikes are a common form of transportation in Thailand, and I took this picture en route to the hospital one day.
It was during my long hours at the hospital post-surgery and pre-flight home, that I had plenty of time to observe the nurses and hospital staff. I don’t spend a lot (or really any) time in American hospitals, but I was really struck with how professional everyone in this particular Thai hospital dressed. I think I saw a total of 5 people in scrubs during our entire week stay. Doctors wore business clothing with lab coats (unless, I’m assuming, they were in the OR). Nurses wore either white or lilac suits with the cutest hats. Staff members (or what I called: patient ambassadors) wore blue suits that coordinated with the hospital’s logo. Even the first responders in the ambulance had on suits or, at the very minimum, a sharp polo with the hospital’s logo and dress pants.
Doctors from Bangkok Hospital Phuket
Maybe it was because we were no longer in a small rural clinic (where the doctor wore baggy khakis and an oversized polo), but I just felt like everything was going to be okay and that Andrew was going to be well cared for in this hospital. It turns out my intuition was correct. Although the break was ‘quite bad’ and the surgery was ‘risky’ (to quote our orthopedic surgeon), Andrew’s surgery was a declared a success by local doctors and our American physician. It wasn’t until a few days post surgery that I wondered if the professionalism of the hospital uniforms didn’t help subconsciously put my mind at ease. I perhaps felt like Andrew was in good hands because the hospital staff looked like they had everything pulled together and under control. Clean and crisp uniforms implied that their wearers took themselves, and their patients, seriously.
A group of nurses and doctors
Not only do I think the uniforms created an unspoken air of authority, credibility, and professionalism, but they also made it very easy to identify different roles within the hospital- an important thing in an international hospital where many languages are spoken. Based on what the person entering our hospital room was wearing, I knew exactly what we would be discussing. A blue and red suit meant bills and insurance. White or purple suits meant bath time and pain meds. White lab coats meant a check up on the wound. Dark blue polos with a prominent third party logo meant mealtime.
Nurse surrounded by patient ambassadors (who are wearing blouses with a blue and red cross pattern- the hospital’s logo)
A very sketchily taken photo of some of our amazing night nurses in their lilac outfits.
I was also amazed at how easily the uniform accommodated Muslim staff members. In the Western world, I feel like there is always a debate over whether it’s appropriate or not for a Muslim to wear a headscarf at work. It seemed like adding a coordinating headscarf to the uniform options wasn’t even second thought in our hospital. With 20% of Thailand’s Phuket province being Muslim, providing a headscarf option to the uniform seems obvious. If Western companies are struggling to accommodate the headscarf to their uniform, they should look to Bangkok Hospital Phuket as a prime example of how to do it respectfully and professionally.
I wanted to get a picture with all the wonderful nurses from our ward to show you exactly what I’m talking about. However, when it came time to leave, a waiting taxi and a ward of busy nurses (with plenty of other people to deal with) prevented a photo-op. Instead, you’ll have to look at the above photos that I plucked off the hospital website in order to see exactly what I mean. (And enjoy that one winner that I snapped while they were changing the sheets)
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All in all, it was a crazy month and we still have a long journey ahead of us (or more so, Andrew has a long journey of healing ahead of him). And while I wish I had never needed to check out the hospital uniforms in the first place, I enjoyed seeing how another culture uses dress to influence both the staff and the patients. It would be interesting to see what would happen in terms of provider/patient relationships if American hospitals adopted more professional dress in their health care institutions.