Want to Be A Doctor? Then Look Like A Doctor!

This is a vdress for successery controversial topic somewhat pertaining to conformity and individuality. I would love to hear what people have to say about this.  Agree or disagree?  I hope it makes you think.
You’ll never be a doctor! How many of you have heard this before?  How many of you have been told that you will not amount to anything in life?  How many of you have been told not to apply to medical school by someone who does not really know you?

Many people’s default is to look at minorities and assume we are not good enough to practice medicine. We do not have what it takes to care for society’s physical and mental ailments.  Let’s be real, who wouldn’t rather have the elder Caucasian gentleman take care of their lung disease as oppose to me, the 30 year old black guy?  The chips are stacked against us from the start, and we have to dig ourselves out of the hole just to reach even ground.

Why are we viewed in this light? I dare to say that it is the image we paint of ourselves.  It is not that this image is a bad thing, but rather it is not the image of a stereotypical physician.  I recall very clearly flying home to Houston from St. Louis during my college years.  Back then, my dress style was consistent with hip hop culture.  My winter wardrobe consisted mostly of baggy sweats and hoodies.  On this particular flight, for near 2 hrs, I sat next to an elder woman who berated me for my dress and assured me that nobody would take me serious. She seemed certain that I was a thug who was up to no good and had no aspirations.  I am not sure I could have ever convinced her that I would one day be a physician.  I just did not look the part.

So, does looking the part matter? I think it does. The first month of medical school one of my best friends who wore his hair in long twists was told by our Dean that he would cut the twists out by the time he started his clinical clerkships.  My friend, who is very strong willed, asserted that would not happen.  “I’m doing me”, he would say.  Two years later his hair was cut.  Whether this was because he grew tired of it, or because hr realized that slightly less individualism and slightly more conformity was needed, I do not know.

Perhaps it is unfair, but the way we look affects how far we make it in certain arenas of life, Medicine included.  The fact of the matter is that there are very few people who want the guy in the sagging sweats (i.e. me in college) to take care of them when they are dying on life support.  They simply would not be able to see me as someone who can provide adequate care.  So why would a medical school dean want to admit me to his or her school if he or she cannot visualize me as his or her doctor.  It simply would not make sense for them to admit me.  To take this one step further, what many pre-medical students do not realize is that a significant portion of your college grades are subjective and to a certain extent, are influenced by the way your teacher views you.  Subconsciously, we look at people and rate their potential level of success even before we know them.  This rating is based on the way they walk, talk, dress, etc.  So it is very important to consider that the way your teacher views your appearance will likely play some role, even if small, in your final grade.

I would suggest to our members that if you want to be a doctor, then behave like a doctor. It is okay to be unique and you certainly should not let go of those things that make you an individual.  But you must find that balance that allows you to bring your uniqueness to the conformity of the Medical field.  You have to fit in while being yourself.  Never be someone who you are not, but understand that there is a certain look  which patients expect their doctors to have in order for them to feel confidence in your medical abilities.

Because this is a loaded topic, I will end it here and perhaps revisit it in the future.  In the end, it comes down to realizing that getting into the Medical Field is like playing the wise game of Chess.  You have to make smart moves pertaining to how you study, how you look, etc.  “Being wise is better than being strong”.  So be wise in your decisions pertaining to how other people view you.


Image from: http://wecort.com/archives/171

8 thoughts on “Want to Be A Doctor? Then Look Like A Doctor!

  1. Profile photo of Faith CornettFaith Cornett

    Thank you for posting this. I agree completely. I have to say that personally, I feel that how you dress speaks to people and speaks volumes. I think it does matter.

  2. Profile photo of Dr. DanielDr. Daniel

    Great post. I completely agree with you. Dressing the part goes a long way. As a young person (especially one of color) what you display on the outside tends to label you far before you speak. I and most other young professionals have had too many experiences while simply dressing casual to know this is a fact. However, I don’t let it stop me from wearing a ball cap, shorts, and t-shirt like everyone else on a casual day outing (can’t sport a tie every day). Certain hair styles, tattoos, piercings are fine for some professions but for many others they can really hurt you so it’s good to think before you go permanent. I personally think the media has a huge influence on this.

  3. Profile photo of Kareim OliphantKareim Oliphant

    Great post and agreed. I notice that especially when I travel by plane, people treat me a lot differently when I dress nicely. As people of color we have to understand that the higher up we go/want to go, the less we will see people that look like us. And often this means that we are essentially “representing” people of color with each professional interaction. Whether it’s sad, unfair, slightly infuriating…I’m not sure. But presentation makes a huge difference. And it’s hard to escape that fact

    I agree with Dr. Daniel though…there is a time and place for casual dress. Sadly many of us don’t know the appropriate time or place.

  4. Profile photo of Linda BlockusLinda Blockus

    Presenting a professional image needs to start as soon as you arrive on campus as an undergraduate. One of my biggest pet peeves in working with minority students at our group meetings is that many students don’t take off their winter coats and slump down in their chairs and bury themselves in parka hoods, scarfs, hats, etc. I realize it is cold, but it isn’t THAT cold. Take off your coat! Keeping your coat on sends a message to me that you can’t wait to leave, since you couldn’t be bothered to take off your coat in the first place. The slumping in the chair and messing with your cell phone while I am talkikng aren’t things that have to do with the way you dress, but they are behaviors that will get you noticed in a negative way. The way you are perceived and the impression that you give, DOES matter. Dress for success is not just a phrase, it can be a personal motto!

  5. Profile photo of Kwesi WilliamsKwesi Williams

    I disagree with this post to a certain extent. I think that in this world you must show people that A) intellectually you can compete with any man or woman nomatter the race and 2) That you can’t be brought by anyone even if it means changing your appearance. Now I for one think that it would be absurd for you to walk into work with your pants sagging and speaking out of term, however why should I cave and break who I am to be accepted by somebody else. For example, my physician has dreadlocks down to her back and she has her M.D./PHD. She had them all throughout med school and told me that she was pressured to cut them. I asked her why didn’t she, and she told me because “at the end of the day if you cannot look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of who you are, success means nothing.” It took a very long time for me to digest that, but it makes so much sense to me. We live in a country that constantly reminds us that the darker we are the uglier we are, or that the nappier are hair is the faster we should run out there to go get a perm, haircut, or a straight hair weave. Why must the black man and woman always conform to fit someone else’s happiness. I think one of the biggest problems that we as minorities (mainly blacks) need to overcome is being comfortable in our own skin. They tell us to cut our hair because they know that 9 times out of 10 we will do it. They would never tell a Pakistani woman who is muslim to take off her headscarff becuase they know she won’t do it. Jesus never stopped being who he was just because society frowned upon him. He died staying true to who he was, and so shall I.

    1. Profile photo of Dr. DaleDr. Dale Post author

      Good points Kwesi, and I do agree that we should never “sell out”. The key is knowing how to balance your individuality with conformity. Be yourself, but fit in enough with those in your field so that the team can function at optimal capacity (We are Medical Doctors, if we do not function well together, people can die).

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