BOSTON, MA – Jessica Schwartz, a third-year resident in a local internal medicine program, was pleased to find comments about her physical appearance in her residency final evaluation. In addition to exemplary ratings in patient care, medical knowledge, and systems based practice, Schwartz’s final evaluation made several references to her “youthful appearance” and recommended several ways to increase her “professional presentation,” including “wearing more formal attire – but nothing too fancy.”
Schwartz reports that she was initially surprised, especially since after intern year she had almost gotten used to being treated like a real person again. “But ultimately, I’m relieved. Initially, I thought that during residency most feedback would focus on constructive criticism of my clinical work. You know, helping me be a better doctor. But this is so much better!”
Schwartz went on to describe her fears that by going into medicine she wouldn’t have the experience of people in the workplace commenting on her body, a privilege she worried was reserved only for female actresses, athletes, politicians, scientists, university professors, computer programmers, or characters on Mad Men.
Overall, Schwartz finds this feedback a helpful reminder to refocus on what’s really important in her career development. “I think my attending really made this a teachable moment. Without her thoughtful guidance, how else would I have known that society makes judgments about my skill level based on my physical appearance?”
As Schwartz leaves residency, she’s full of regrets. “I get kind of emotional when I think of all the time I’ve wasted reading up on patients and preparing case presentations. I even presented at grand rounds. This whole time I was too focused on what was in front of me to focus on what is really important, like finding ways to look older but not too old. The best part is because this feedback came from an older, female attending, I know it’s totally appropriate and not sexist at all.” When the department chair, Dr. Eugene Harris, was asked for comment, he said simply, “This feels like a trick question. I’m not going to say anything.”
Meanwhile Schwartz, just accepted her first attending job, and says she’s most looking forward to passing down her newly-acquired wisdom to future generations of residents. After all, there is no tradition in medicine more sacred than evaluating residents according to arbitrary personal opinions.