You Don’t ‘Look’ Like a Doctor

I began writing this post about a month ago but had to step away because I was writing it out of anger. That day in particular, I was told three times, “You don’t look like a doctor.” I am often told that I look ‘too young’ to be a doctor. Typically, I take this as a compliment and attribute my youthfulness to my ‘black not cracking.’ But really, it’s just another way to question my credentials.  

I am a black, 5’4” female with natural hair. I wear my hair however I feel like wearing it- sometimes in two strand twist, sometimes a twist out, sometimes a ponytail and sometimes a fro. I wear scrubs to work and I don’t wear a white coat. White coats get dirty quickly and not to mention they harbor bacteria. Wearing scrubs isn’t just “a Dr. Ward thing” by the way. My co-residents wear scrubs and the majority of my attendings do as well. The facility is also pretty cold so I typically wear a sweatshirt over my scrubs. Not just any sweatshirt, but a green a gold sweatshirt with the words “UAB School of Optometry” written across the front. Again, not just a me thing. The students and residents wear jackets/sweatshirts and so do my attendings. So what makes me different?

In each of the three encounters I asked the patient, “What does a doctor look like?”

The first patient was a BLACK male (yes, I was more offended by his remarks because if we don’t support each other who will?!). When I introduced myself he told me there’s no way  that I am a doctor and he needs to see “my diploma and state licence.” Whattttt? He told me I was not a doctor because I had on scrubs and his wife, a CNA, wears scrubs. When I asked him if he ever saw anyone in the optometry department wearing something other than scrubs? He had no response.

The second patient was a BLACK female. I introduced myself and was again met with shock and questions. She said I didn’t look like a doctor because I just looked “different” and was wearing a sweatshirt. I told her I wasn’t going to be cold just to “look like a doctor.” Mind you, my attending came in with a jacket on and the patient didn’t question her at all. So I asked what made my attending any different? (I mean she had on a jacket.) She didn’t question her because she had seen her before...

The third patient was a white male. Same old introduction and same old shock. He asked me twice if I was sure I was a doctor. TWICE. When I asked him how does a doctor look and what makes me different? He said, “he couldn’t put a finger on it, but it's something.”

So what does a doctor look like? Honestly, I have never thought about it. I have never gone to any type of doctor and questioned his/her credentials. I have had doctors who wear white coats and some who do not. I have had doctors who wear scrubs and some in jeans and a shirt. So, I googled it. Most of the articles were about the whatadoctorlookslike hashtag. Some discussed patients’ preferences for their doctor’s attire. According to an article in Physician’s Weekly, a doctor’s clothing has an impact on a patient’s perception of trust, competence and overall satisfaction with care. Several surveys showed that a large majority of patients prefer a doctor in business attire and a white coat. Of note, many of those studies specifically ask about medical doctors.  I also searched the demographics of optometrists. According to Data USA 44.6% of optometrists are female and the average age of female optometrists is 38.3. Racially, 78.3% of optometrists are white, 18.6% are Asian and 1.6% are....Black.

One. Point. Six. But, that’s a different topic for a different day.

However, I was never able to find specific image of what a doctor looks like because there is no “look” for a doctor. Yes, statistically speaking most optometrists or doctors in general are white males. However, white and male will always be the standard/norm. Yes, the white coat is a traditional symbol of the medical profession. However wearing a white coat is no rule. Doctors come in all shapes, shades, etc. and their attire does not determine their quality of care.

“You don’t look like a doctor.” This statement frustrates me because I know the dedication I put into become one. It frustrates me because I understand implicit biases associated with women and blacks in the medical field. It frustrates me because I don’t like having my credentials questioned. But I’m not going to change a thing about myself. I will continue to wear scrubs, sweatshirts and fros because that’s what I want and like to do. I look like a doctor in whatever I choose to wear and do with my hair because I am a doctor.

All Eyez on Me,


Brandis Haynes