In an unlikely intersection, pageantry has the potential to play a pivotal role in accentuating career progression in academic medicine. Through meticulously crafting one’s professional demeanor and image, physicians can hone their interpersonal and networking skills and bolster their professional credibility. Drs. Wada and Nelson share how their participation in pageants over the years has served as an influential catalyst for success, both in medical school admissions and academic promotion.
Pageantry, traditionally seen as competitions emphasizing physical beauty, has evolved, spotlighting participants’ intelligence, talents, and commitment to community service. It offers a unique platform for skill acquisition, personal branding, and community engagement, all crucial for a burgeoning career in medicine. Through pageants, contestants develop effective communication skills, poise, and confidence, especially when under pressure, underpinning a physician’s successful interaction with peers, patients, and the broader community.
In the two years prior to applying and interviewing for medical school, the future Dr. Wada minimized her educational debt by earning thousands in scholarships through the Miss America Scholarship Foundation while also building confidence and networking with several future colleagues. Through countless public appearances, speeches, and interviews, she was easily able to communicate how and why she deserved a coveted spot in the incoming medical school class. Now, nearly 20 years later, she serves as an associate allergy/immunology fellowship program director. Dr. Wada shares, “When I am helping a mentee hone their personal statement or prepare for their upcoming residency or fellowship interviews, the best advice I can give is for the applicant to be authentic and unforgettable in the best way possible.” It turns out the questions asked within both types of interviews are quite similar.
Public engagement and community outreach are a mainstay of pageantry. During her years as Dr. California and, most recently, Dr. America, Dr. Nelson used her title as a platform to promote pediatric safety and health efforts to a plethora of audiences at a local, state, and national level. By utilizing her skill set as a board-certified pediatrician and lactation consultant, member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, Dr. Nelson has pivoted from solely a clinician role to a national spokeswoman in the areas of childhood safety and pediatric complex care, utilizing interpersonal skills in pageantry as a launch pad for communicative success in both the medical and general realms. Communication, transparency, and broad knowledge of relevant current events and statistics are vital components of both pageantry and medicine. Dr. Nelson’s message of “Stay Safe, Be Well” has been nationally syndicated in articles and media reports featured in local and national news, including the AAP, CNN, New York Times, USA Today, and more.
Despite its merits, pageantry faces criticism, primarily centered around superficiality and perpetuating certain beauty standards. Critics will argue that pageants engender an environment where physical appearance is overly emphasized, but few realize that the interview accounts for around 50 percent of the total score in many pageant systems. In recent years, the most well-known pageant programs have updated their criteria, and new, more inclusive opportunities have popped up as well, including the Dr. America/Dr. World system, in which both Drs. Wada and Nelson participate.
Harnessing the unlikely synergy between pageantry and medicine, physicians can carve an unconventional, yet effective, path for career advancement. Engaging in pageants fosters not only personal growth, but also skill enhancement, imperative for success in the medical field. As evidenced by individuals like Drs. Wada and Nelson, this approach, despite its challenges, presents an alternative and fun route for career development, inspiring aspiring physicians to consider pageantry as a viable tool for professional and personal empowerment.
Kara Wada is a board-certified academic adult and pediatric allergy, immunology, and lifestyle medicine physician, Sjogren’s patient, certified life coach, TEDx speaker, and Dr. Midwest 2023. She can be reached at Dr. Kara Wada and on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She is a national expert, sought-after speaker, advisor, and host of the Becoming Immune Confident Podcast. She is CEO and founder, The Crunchy Allergist and the Demystifying Inflammation Summit, and serves as the director of clinical content for Aila Health.
Hailey Nelson is a pediatrician.