Lately I’ve noticed that the better I look, the better I feel. Rocket science, yes? But seriously, this profession doesn’t take outward appearance lightly, man. Especially the women. Is it any coincidence that the more successful the cardiologist, the higher and sharper her heels are? Most of my female clinician professors seem to be perpetually well-dressed, hair done, makeup meticulous and on point. (My more academic, research-oriented female professors, on the other hand, usually wear a variation of cardigans, corduroys, and loafers. Bless their hearts.)
It can’t just be by accident, right? I’m getting the vibe that looking like you’ve dressed to impress gets a female clinician a) attention and respect from her patients, and b) gets her taken more seriously by her male colleagues. And this second one is obviously a vestige of the ingrained idea that medicine is still a boy’s club and that women should still have any reason to impress her male counterparts more so than any man would, but there you go. That’s just my theory, anyway.
I’m not saying any of this is right. It’s not exactly fair that we judge each other’s competences and personalities based on physical appearance or the comfort level of our shoes but it is, realistically, how the world still works.
So, dressing up: there’s no reason for us to start now, but I think we already have. I remember back in first year the class would bookmark the days we’d have clinical sessions and probably unanimously groan. You could be a stranger walking through our lecture hall and know exactly which days these sessions were booked for. Now, most of the girls look like that anyway. And I know I personally feel like I command more respect looking put-together whether in patient scenarios or just walking through campus, and it’s a pretty damn cool feeling. I can imagine why, in the dog-eat-dog world that medicine can feel like sometimes, doing something simple to add to how respected you feel can go a long way.
I remember being at brunch with a classmate earlier this year (first of all, how sophisticated are we for doing brunch, right?) and commenting on how nice she looked, wondering what the occasion was, and her reply was, “You know what? I’m 25. I have no reason to be wearing sweats or yoga pants any moment that I’m not walking my dog. I should look like I have my life together.” She’s right. We’re young women, medical students, on the wards in 6 months where we’ll be expected to care for patients, where families will look to us for support and preceptors will expect us to know things. We’re in our mid-twenties, and some of our peers have law degrees or own small businesses or have conquered the world. They don’t even question the importance of their appearance and first impressions. And if they have their lives together, and look the part–well, I certainly should too.