Professionally Expressing Yourself

Professionalism: “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well”

Since stepping foot on this beautiful campus, people have been reminding us about professionalism. We must represent ourselves, our school, and our chosen career in a manner that is dignified. We are expected to be polite and compassionate and do what is right. When we encounter patients, we wear our white coats and professional attire.

It is the professional attire that I want to expound on. For many (like my own mother), that means boring business clothes. Black slacks, nice top. Often times the tops are black, white, or MAYBE blue or red. Now there is no actual code (that I know of) banning color, but it seems like the status quo of professional attire is limited to those few colors. Personally, I cannot limit myself to such a bleak wardrobe.

Let me explain…

I love color. I. LOVE. COLOR. I also like patterns. (I also REALLY love Christmas sweaters.) I love to find blouses that integrate both color and patterns. Now, I do not go overboard, but I feel obligated to express myself even while acting as a “professional” at my site visits or standardized patient encounters. We are taught physical exams. We are taught ways to phrase questions and the logical sequence to ask them in. We are taught about imposter syndrome, the “do I really belong here” thoughts every student has. However, we have yet to really discuss ways to combat such a phenomenon. As a quick aside, I found this article to summarize imposter syndrome and what it is like to be in medical school in general to be helpful! Now… How do I deal with imposter syndrome?

Personally, I use color and patterns to make me feel like myself and less like an imposter; color makes me feel comfortable. Though I have to say particular things and act a certain way that is similar to many, many other people, my clothes allow me to be different. When I know I am different, I feel comfortable, and I am able to do a better job with physical exams or talking to my patient. I also feel like my “boldness”, as others have termed, allows me to communicate with others better.

An example of this was exemplified in my OSCE, which is a test on our ability to perform the physical exams we have learned. I, along with a few others, wore colorful shirts to go with our black slacks and white coat. I knew the exam was important especially since a large portion of my grade depended on it. I also knew that I needed a way to ease my nerves; my blouse was a way to do just that. Now, I am not accrediting my performance on the exam to my blouse since I had practiced and practiced and practiced. However, I do believe my blouse factored in by allowing me to be at ease, which I believe manifested itself in how I communicated with the Standardized Patients. Now a more recent example is at one of my clinical site visits when I was listening to a young girl’s heart. While waiting on my mentor to finish with what she was doing, the little girl and I were discussing the fact that both of our shirts had hearts. We were able to laugh and joke and lessen the seriousness of being at the doctor’s office. She opened up to me because in that instance, we had something in common and she felt connected. I, too, was able to let my guard down and truly interact with her. That interaction reminded me that I can do this… I can be a doctor. I am not an imposter; I am working toward my dream.

Now I know it seems trivial, the whole color and pattern thing. Alas, when preparing for interviews while still in college, representatives from medical schools continued to tell interviewees that it was okay to wear color! They warned everyone not to go overboard, but assured them black was not the only color that could portray professionalism. I myself wore a teal blouse and gray slacks for my UTMB interview. I love to be different; I believe that my first impression, my boldness, helped set me apart from my fellow interviewees that day.

I guess my point throughout this post is that one can be professional and still be able to express himself or herself. We are all unique. We all have different backgrounds, perspectives, and styles. Don’t let the pressure of medical school keep you from being who you are. Don’t let the pressure of life or the fear of being judged keep you from being who you are. Being comfortable enough to be who you are, I believe, is key for truly enjoying every day of your career, of your life. So figure out how you can express yourself while still portraying yourself as a professional. It makes all the difference in the world.

-Alyssa: the girl who (thus far) owns 21 Christmas sweaters…



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