Scrubs and Stilettos…Running Late in 4” Heels
If female beauty can be called a weapon, then one can extend that metaphor to such beauty is a “double-edged sword”. In the Ancient World, a woman’s beauty launched a thousand ships; in the Modern World, the pretty girl may get fewer speeding tickets; but what happens in the Medical World? With better looks comes an assumption of greater intelligence on the part of the observer (there is actually a study on this perception); too beautiful, however, and others may think being smart is incompatible with such perfect hair and full lips.
The female doctor can bond with their patients, put them at ease, give great comfort and express emotions and still get the surgery done, but does a physician’s femininity (like make-up itself) highlight one’s features or create a distraction? It is believed that Nature, in its fairness, bestows the gift of great looks or great smarts and you cannot get on line twice. Beauty can open doors, but close one into a stereotype.
Beauty: more attention and taken less seriously. Work twelve-years for that white coat and still be called “nurse” mistakenly…or “honey” intentionally.
Should the female medical student and doctor hide or suppress their femininity? Hair up? Hair down? Perhaps, the pony-tail compromise; lipstick for lectures, but not for on call. The alluring heavy eye shadow and mascara worn in the O.R. where all must wear a surgical mask (hiding the lower face) is legendary.
A more compelling story is today’s ever-increasing female enrollment rate in medical school. Women’s share of the matriculating class has risen from less than a third in 1982-83 to about one half in 2010-11. So there will be more women behind those masks. Although high heels on a slippery blood-soaked O.R. floor may be impractical, many pressures on women in medicine stem from an older era; these rules are prejudicial, not pragmatic. More restrictive than any hospital regulation is the cultural influence. An older culture may no longer be applicable for modern medicine and for the modern caregiver. Move over “Marcus Welby M.D.”, you are so Black & White…and such a guy.
How does one use the power of beauty in the field of medicine? I met with a burn victim who toured the country’s medical schools. Scarred with horror-movie deformities, he was a powerful lecturer. Off stage I asked him how his looks affected his career. He answered, “When a beautiful woman enters a room, all eyes are on her. If she first says something stupid, that attention – that valuable opportunity to do something meaningful – is lost. When I enter a room, all eyes are on me and I make the most of it!”
I think many women in medicine enjoy their femininity for themselves – not to prove a point or upstage the boss-man, cause trouble, seduce, or reign chaos among weak-willed men. It is part of who you are at a time when so many are trying to change you.
Feeling confident and good about oneself makes one a better doctor. Beauty rituals can give stability and continuity during the turmoil and doldrums of endless work hours and identity-stripping training. There is a scene in an old black-and-white WWII war movie where the British solders shaved calmly and ritualistically (male primping) before going off to battle. (Come to think of it, do not many women refer to make-up as “putting on their war paint”?)
If beauty and femininity are natural to women, then they bring these assets to the field of medicine. Medicine is a culture of its own that often resists change. The power of beauty may not have changed since Helen of Troy, but the modern medical world is changing – and not just the technology.
This new generation will make it better. If female beauty is a double-edged sword, the sharper edge is for the Better. The trick will be in learning the balance: when to maintain who you are while becoming the physician your training demands. The rub will often be when to hold on to what makes you a different person and when to let go in a career that constantly asks you to give of yourself. When do you shout and celebrate all that makes you colorful and unique, and when should you discretely tuck those glorious locks underneath your surgical cap because your job is to put someone else first.
Balancing on those 4” high heels might be easier.
Disclaimer: The author is pro high heels and the title is inspired by actual blogs and tweets of two glamorous female medical students.