What to Wear on PA School Rotations


Prior to rotations, I just almost never wore anything business casual, so I had no clue how to dress.  My classmates who had full time jobs prior to coming to physician assistant school, seemed to think it was easy to figure out what to wear on rotations.  I did not have that luxury.  Nearly my entire wardrobe consisted of jeans and sweat pants.  I hear both are frowned upon in the professional world.  I had a closet full of flip-flops, heels and sneakers, which would not do.  So I needed to adopt a new wardrobe and fast.

If you’re like me, you want to make a good impression on rotations and stay comfortable.  How do you find that balance?  Though you might look fabulous in high heels, you aren’t prepared to be standing in heels for 8-12 hours.  Every new site I went to I contacted the site in advance and asked what to wear.

The Basics

What you wear really depends on the setting you are in.  When you’re at a surgical, hospital or emergency medicine setting, you may just wear scrubs.  If you’re in the office, you may just wear business casual clothes.  Often you don’t know what to expect, so I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Here is the absolute gold rule of rotations, when in doubt wear dress pants, a plain or striped button up shirt and ballet flats (or dress shoes if you’re a boy) and pack a pair of scrubs in your bag.  Do not wear nail polish, perfume, cologne or jewelry, besides a watch.  This strategy saved me a lot, especially on the first day, when I didn’t know what to expect.  If you read nothing else in this article read that piece of advise and commit it to memory.  It applies to all rotations, all the time and both genders.

Surgical Rotations

When you are going into surgery, you will have to wear fresh scrubs that they will provide for you upon your arrival.  They need to be sanitary and thus cleaned by the hospital.  No one trusts you to walk in the door with clean scrubs.  This is kind of nice because the hospital does your laundry for you.  It’s the least they can do in my opinion because generally the extra hours you spent in surgery really take away from the time you would spend doing laundry.  On the first day of a surgical rotation, show up in a business casual outfit to feel out the water.  You may later realize that you can wear scrubs and switch scrubs when you arrive.  That’s always the best case because who wants to get all dressed up only to put on scrubs when you arrive?  Not me.  If you’re not doing surgery, you may be allowed to wear your own scrubs at times.  Get a few nice pairs just in case.

Outpatient Rotations

When you’re working in an office and you can usually wear business casual clothes all the time.  Staples of business casual- button up shirts, khakis, black pants, gray pants.  You can wear capris and skirts, but do not wear them day one.  Make sure skirts are at least to your knees.  Don’t follow the finger tip length rule.  No one will give you detention for wearing a short skirt, but you’ll look foolish, so if a skirt is on the fence, just don’t wear it.  Button up shirts are easy and obvious, but any shirt that is of a nice fabric, and not too scandalous will work.  Also, you should know, cardigans are your friends.

Shoes and Accessories

Let’s talk about shoes.  The best shoes to wear in surgery or anywhere you do a lot of standing are Dankos, Klogs etc.  The last thing you want is blisters and foot pain.  Of note, do not wear those shoes with a shirt or capris, they will not look good.  Long dress pants? Knock yourself out.  I actually also wore compression hose because my legs would get achy when I stood for hours.  You can take or leave those, but I do recommend them.  Ballet or dress flats are great.  Do not show toes.  If you feel like wearing heels, go for it, but you don’t get extra points for wearing heels.  Flats are fabulous.  I love to accessorize and you can, but play it safe.  Once, a doctor told me to cool it on the earrings.   I wore no jewelry for the remainder of that rotation besides my watch.  Frankly, I think she was being a little over critical, but sometimes you get harsh preceptors so be prepared.   Let my mistakes help you avoid similar ones.  A lot of places, especially surgery rotations, will want you to avoid nail polish.  Just don’t wear nail polish.  It’s the safest way to go.  Although your perfume or cologne might smell divine, in the hospital setting, you never know whose allergies you’re going to provoke.  Avoid perfume/cologne and strong scents.  Use old fashion soap, water and deodorant.

You have student loans, you can’t go shopping every week.  Am I right? Since rotations are generally only a few weeks, you can re-wear outfits over and over again without shame.  So if you find something that works for you, go with it.  I know you’ll look fabulous, make a great impression with your professionalism and allow your preceptors and patients focus on the genius things coming out of your mouth.


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