The new attending pulled us aside after morning rounds. I would be the intern on his team, along with a senior resident and some medical students. I pulled out a notebook from the bulging pockets of my white coat, ready to jot down notes about his patients or write words of wisdom. “I expect the ladies on my team to wear dresses or skirts with high heels, hair styled, and make-up done. Men should wear shirts and ties.” I was too stunned to speak. I looked around hoping to find another shocked expression; however, the team was conveniently mostly male.
I was scheduled to be on call that night. I packed my bag with snacks, a thermos of caffeine and headed out the door in scrubs and sneakers. As soon as I got into the residents’ lounge, the pager went off as it was placed in my hand. The ER was hit hard that night with a steady stream of admissions. The moment I thought I had caught a break in between calls from the floor nurses, I would lie down on the couch and close my eyes, only to be jolted awake with order requests from the ICU.
Before I knew it, the sun had risen, and it was the first day of service with the new attending. Notes in hand, I dashed up the stairs two at a time and got to the nurse’s station just in time. He looked me up and down with complete disapproval. My hair was in a haphazard ponytail and my glasses were sliding down the bridge of my nose as perspiration beaded at my forehead. My eyes were bloodshot, and the wrinkles of my baggy scrubs disguised by a zip-up fleece.
The click-clacking of stilettos down the hall caught the attending’s attention as we both turned to see one of my fellow residents walking out of a patient room, her coifed hair and fitted black dress bringing a smile to the attending’s face. His head snapped back to me as I started presenting, from memory, every single patient I had admitted. Every order, medication and patient concern listed with precision.
It was his turn to be too stunned to speak. I watched as disapproval turned to respect. And for the rest of the month on his service, I never wore heels or a full face of make-up.