by RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
I am continually amazed by the breadth and variety of discussion topics of importance within the retail dietetics community! While at a recent retail RD event, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on lab coats and why retail RDs choose to wear them or not in the course of their work. Fascinating topic, right? To bring this topic to light, I gained insight from various retailers on whether and why as it relates to lab coats.
We Vote YES!
According to Natalie Menza, MS, RD, Manager of Health & Wellness at Wakefern Food Corporation, all "retail dietitians (not corporate) wear lab coats that have their name, credentials and our Live Right with ShopRite logo on them. We ask that they wear this anytime they are doing an in store program as well as at community events (as they see fit/appropriate). While in the store, this helps to set them apart from other staff such as department managers. It helps customers to recognize them as a trusted health professional."
At Marianos in Chicago, the RD team wears lab coats "along with a black tie, white shirt. Sometimes the tie color correlates to the health event (i.e. red for heart month, blue for colon CA)." The dietitians wear them for "tours, consults, outside events. Not for office days." Peggy Balboa, RD, LDN indicates they wear them because "customers relate the black tie to our retailer, and the lab coat to my position." Peggy sports a "Rocking Chic" lab coat from Baby Phat and highly recommends these as a way to dial up the style!
We Vote NO!
While HAC Retail considered lab coats when their corporate dietitian Alyson Fendrick, RD, LD, CPT started shooting commercials, they decided against it. Fendrick comments, "We felt like it was too clinical when I started and that it might intimidate the shoppers. We wanted to have a warm inviting look rather than that of a doctor’s office."
Shari Steinbach, MS, RD, Healthy Living Manager at Meijer indicates "no lab coats for us and never considered wearing them. Our regional RDNs spend most of their time on media and community events."
The dietitians at Jewel Osco in Chicago used to wear lab coats but no longer do. According to Molly Bray, RD, LDN, “We would wear lab coats for all of our clinical services like consultations and group classes along with in store demos and marketplace tours. They benefited our clinical services as they appeared professional, and we blended in with the staff in the pharmacy department.” When asked why they changed this approach, Bray responds, “We no longer wear lab coats, because we found that outside of the pharmacy department the customer reaction was mixed. We definitely stood out while doing demos and received some customer interest, but at the same time we were confused for doctors and pharmacists.”
According to Caroline Passerello, MS, RD, LDN, Corporate RD at Giant Eagle, "We are currently reviewing execution versus policy and determining the target condition regarding dietitian uniform. The challenge with lab coats in the store is that customers and team members confuse the RD with the pharmacist – that’s not always a bad thing. The challenge with no lab coats in the store is that customers confuse RD with store management. At the current time, we ask that RDs wear the lab coats for counseling, classes, tours and community events. We use pictures of our RDs in lab coats on our marketing materials to position us as the experts. RDs are to wear branded aprons when doing cooking demonstrations."