When you enter medical school, you have this very esteemed white coat ceremony. It’s a memorable occasion, where speakers tell newbie medical students and their families all that it means to wear such a coat: the responsibility, the ethical code, the professionalism, the compassion all intertwined to make up the very fabric of each emblemed cape.
My coat was part of my dilemma. It wasn’t that I couldn’t be all the things that it represented; I just felt that it had its own large persona, and there wasn’t enough room for singing, laughing, dancing me. You see, when I entered medical school, I was still hoping that someone would discover me as an artist. I was a recording singer with an ambition for superstardom. I would record in 15-minute intervals in my home studio after 45 minutes of studying. Although I liked medical school, it could not compare to my love for music. Could a doctor have another passion? I didn’t think so at the time. Every time I put that crisp white coat on, I pretended to be someone very different. Less of me, I thought, more of who I thought a doctor should be; and so I began to stifle myself, and I became very unhappy in the process.
It wasn’t until the third year of residency that I heard two amazing mentors tell me, “Be you as a doctor.” I know that sounds incredibly simple, but to me it was profound. Be me? I went home and contemplated this saying over and over. Be you as a doctor. I thought about how being me would including humming during procedures, singing for my patients, asking questions apart from the character, location, onset, duration, intensity of pain. I would improvise off the script and find joy in not just being me but searching deeper into who my patients are. From that day on, my world changed. I let myself free to be me between the button and the button hole of my white coat. It was awesome. I felt I was running wild and discovered the secret of happiness: I got to be me!
It’s not just music that the white coat tends to suppress. I know mothers and fathers that don’t speak about their children, world travelers that are restrained to tell their stories, photographers, painters, dancers, cooks: all doctors that seem uniform under one blank canvas cover. Maybe, the white isn’t for uniformity at all, but for us to bring our own personality and color into the mix. Maybe our profession would be that much more vibrant and enjoyable if doctors felt free to be who they are. Be you as a doctor. I hope those words change your life as they did mine.
“Jos J” is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. She can be reached on her self-titled site, JosJ MD.
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