Making a Professional First Impression in Healthcare


Published: 04 May 2020

You have probably wondered at one point or another what kind of first impression you had on someone.

We all try to make the best first impression that we can – whether we are working clinically as a nurse, a care worker, a pharmacist in the community, or even just generally in society. When seeking job opportunities, you may be especially determined to put your best foot forward.

So, you may ask, how do you actually make the best first impression?

What Makes a First Impression?

Did you know it takes as little as three seconds to form a first opinion of someone? (MindTools 2016).

Just a tenth of a second of exposure to a face leads to the development of a first impression (Adams 2012)!

Some literature suggests that people make interpretations of your personality based on your facial features alone (Adams 2012).

Adams even goes on to suggest that if you are fortunate enough to be categorised as ‘attractive’, then you are likely to be interpreted as being ‘nice, intelligent, successful and outgoing’ (2012).

Adams’ study concluded that there is ‘something in the face besides attractiveness that displays internal traits’.

Facial features as well as facial movements, voice and gestures, lead to interpretations about a person’s age, attractiveness, emotions, and familiarity (Zebrowitz & Montepare 2008).

‘Agreeableness’ is heavily judged at the first impression of someone, and it refers to being ‘friendly, warm, nice, easy to get along with’ (Ames & Bianchi 2008). Interestingly, agreeableness is not actually interpreted accurately from first impressions.

Nurse comforting elderly patient in hospital bed | Image

First opinions are based on your:

  • Appearance;
  • Body language;
  • Attire;
  • Gestures; and
  • Behaviour.

(MindTools 2016)

Alarmingly, first impressions are also unlikely to be undone...

Ways to Build a Great First Impression

  • Be punctual.
  • Be calm and confident.
  • Dress appropriately to the context, neatly, cleanly and respectfully.
  • Smile!
  • ‘Stand tall… make eye contact, and greet with a firm handshake’.
  • Open the conversation (e.g. use ‘small talk’).
  • Be optimistic.
  • Use your manners.

(MindTools 2016)

Bad First Impressions

If your first encounter with someone is less than ideal, it may be wise to try to create a fantastic second impression (Lawson 2009).

It has been suggested that on the second encounter, you should ‘ask thoughtful questions’ and ‘listen without judgment’ (Lawson 2009).

Lawson (2009) highlights that first impressions can take a long time to re-correct, and thereby it is essential that you remain patient.

Just a Thought...

A different but important aspect of making a likeable first impression is through your social media presence.

In modern society, some employers and recruiters look at potential employees’ social media profiles when considering who to hire (Skates 2014). Therefore, a first impression could potentially be formed before an employer has even met you.

Knowing this, you may want to consider how you are portrayed online. For example, which profile photo you exhibit and what information you make publicly available. The email address you provide should likewise be respectful, appropriate and professional (Skates 2014).


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Portrait of Madeline Gilkes
Madeline Gilkes

Madeline Gilkes, CDE, RN, is a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She focused her Master of Healthcare Leadership research project on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline has found a passion for preventative nursing. She has transitioned from leadership roles (CNS Gerontology & Education, Clinical Facilitator) in the acute/hospital setting to education management and primary healthcare. Madeline’s vision is to implement lifestyle medicine to prevent and treat chronic conditions. Her research proposal for her PhD involves Lifestyle Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Madeline is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) and primarily works in the academic role of Head of Nursing. Madeline’s philosophy focuses on using humanistic management, adult learning theories/evidence and self-efficacy theories and interventions to promote positive learning environments. In addition to her Master of Healthcare Leadership, Madeline has a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education & Management, Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate of Aged Care Nursing, and a Bachelor of Nursing. She is working towards her PhD. See Educator Profile