Throughout my medical training: from medical school, residency, and even into fellowship, I was a people-pleaser. I will admit when interacting with my teaching attendings I aimed to please. I jumped through the hoops and played the game. I did all that I could to get the glowing letters of recommendation. Going above and beyond like most of us did.
However, in hindsight (which is always 20/20) I can see clearly that I learned a behavior that would prove harmful to me in my career. People Pleasing is dangerous.
So, to my past attendings here are the things I wish I said, the things I wish you knew:
1. I am a black woman. I am not your token to use to connect with patients that look like me. My presence signifies representation of a demographic that has held a long mistrust for the medical community. My presence gives them comfort, reassurance, and improves their access to care, not your access to them.
2. My hair is MY HAIR. It is not for you to put your hands in and marvel at the glory of my curl pattern. My hair is my crown. More than once in my training I had attendings put their hands in my hair, each time I cringed. It was a violation of my personal space. My hair is an expression of me, I am allowed to change it even if it confuses you.
3. Respect My Boundaries. It is not your business whether I have children. It is not your business whether I am in a committed relationship or swiping right. My choices when it comes to family and relationships are just that, MY CHOICES! Those conversations are unwarranted and should play no role in assessing my capability to care for a patient.
4. I am competent and capable. I am not your footstool. You will not use me to make yourself appear superior in front of other medical staff. I am here to learn, not to be your personal assistant.
5. We do not all look alike. Yes, there are less than ten black women in the whole residency however, we do not look alike. So, when you call me by another name I will not respond.
6. It is inappropriate for you to ask me out! It is inappropriate for you to hug me during rounds. if I am on your service I am under your direct supervision and there is a power dynamic in play. This is not OK!
7. Gossiping about other attendings with whom I have a working relationship with is wrong. It speaks to your professionalism. Your personal beef with each other is yours. I should not be made to pick a side. My access to procedures and learning opportunities should not be dependent on whether I align myself with one party or the other. This is manipulation.
Everyone can relate to at least one of these scenarios during their training. Why? Because our attendings are human. They make mistakes just like us. While this explains why these things happen it does not justify why it continues to happen and why it has become an acceptable part of the culture of medical training. These interactions are symptoms of a bigger pathology within the relationship between attending and trainee. Hierarchy can exist without perpetuating these toxic behaviors. It is time for a different approach. It is time for us to disrupt the norms and call for a shift in this paradigm. We can be better.