Monday, June 19, 2017

Sartorial lessons from surgery

As an introduction to clinical medicine, we first years were individually placed with various school-affiliated physicians around Boston. I feel very, very lucky to have spent my Wednesdays at a surgical clinic at our teaching hospital, with a preceptor and mentor (Dr. M) who I hope to become one day. I could fill an entire blog post on clinical knowledge, surgery knowledge, life knowledge, and how-to-be-a-doctor knowledge I have accumulated, but this post is about the sartorial lessons.

In this clinic, the surgeons wear dark suits, ties, monograms, polished shoes, and no white coats. All other MDs and MDs-to-be wear white coats. What did this mean for me? These three outfits represent the only things I thought appropriate to wear to clinic, where male M3s in pastels and khakis looked exceedingly out of place.

Purple top - Ross | Trousers - Banana Republic (too fitted?) | Shoes - Fitzwell | Maroon blouse - NY&Co | Dress - Uniqlo | Watch - Casio

Lesson #0: I am a first year medical student unaccustomed to dressing professionally and have no idea what I'm doing

Lesson #1: when the attendings wear suits and look like bankers and politicians, go as formal as possible without wearing a suit

For me, this meant charcoal grey and quiet jewel tones. The sleeveless tops were fine because I always wore my white coat (not true for all placements). I generally dislike collared, button-down shirts because fit is so fickle with them. Blouses are more forgiving and read a bit more formal. I think I was in the minority of my female classmates who regularly wore a dress to clinic, but I am much, much more comfortable in a dress than in trousers. This one was long enough where sitting, standing, kneeling, etc were all very comfortable.

Lesson #2: accessories and layers matter. Comfortable shoes and a watch are necessary.

On top of these base outfits, I wore a black cardigan and black tights to stay warm during the winter. Because I had a locker at school, I never had to commute far in these clothes and could easily walk to clinic without snow boots, even in blizzard conditions. Because I err on the side of being too formal, I usually wore a dark grey overcoat instead of a parka.

Corollary to #2: an anecdote

Though I spent most of my time in clinic, I often accompanied Dr. M around the hospital to talk to radiologists or other services. Following around a much taller person while wearing heels can be a chore: the dress + low block heel made it manageable.

Dr. M's advice from one of these occasions: "I noticed that you're always walking a few steps behind me. Don't walk behind attendings, walk next to attendings. When a young female medical student walks behind a male attending, it looks subservient, especially if you're the only one there."

How does one young female medical student follow an attending around without looking subservient? Wear comfortable shoes and take longer strides.

Also Dr. M: "Always wear a watch."

Lesson #3: details matter when trying to look like a competent, clean, and professional adult

I got a lot of this kind of advice from my high school job at an ophthalmology clinic where my primary grooming objective was to not look like a high school student. I think that patients may be less inclined to trust someone who looks quite young and unkempt, and attendings less likely to take one seriously. I combed my hair and made sure my makeup looked okay before clinic, and that I wasn't tracking in salt, snow, slush, or ice. Unlike these pictures, I did try to make sure my white coat look like I had not just dug it out of my backpack.

Lesson #4: dress for the job you want?

These are just thoughts I've had from my placement at a surgical clinic where the surgeons wear suit. But also, I haven't seen what female attending surgeons wear when not in scrubs. Yet another thing: I want a woman surgeon as a mentor.

Any advice on how to dress professionally? Thoughts on how to succeed as a young female in a male-dominated field?