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Can a Med Student Have Pink Hair?

Kendra_headshot_2Kendra Campbell -- I mentioned my pink hair in my last post, and some of you very observant folks out there may have noticed that my hair in the picture was in fact light brown. So, I thought I’d give some explanation for that, and also pose a question to the world. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know that I have gone through many different permutations of hair colors in my life. My hair has been every shade of the rainbow, and I’ve also cut it in many interesting ways.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about whether or not it’s appropriate for a doctor to have a pink mohawk. I received a very big response, and it seems that everyone had varying views. At the time, I had just finished my first semester of basic science courses and wasn’t involved in patient contact, so I could sport my pink mohawk without anyone really caring. Eventually, my third and fourth semesters rolled around, and since I was involved in patient care and was required to dress “professionally,” I dyed my hair brown and had it cut as “professionally” as I could muster.

However, as soon as my break between classes would arrive, I’d either shave my head bald or into a mohawk and dye it a fun color. At the end of my fifth semester, which involved rotating at a hospital, I dyed my hair bright pink, and it’s been like that ever since. Because I have been studying for the USLME Step 1, I haven’t seen any patients or had to participate in any “professional” activities, so I could pretty much do whatever I pleased with my hair.

Now comes the hard part. I’ll be starting a psychiatric rotation in less than two weeks. I pretty much had planned on dyeing my hair brown or some other natural color, until a few days ago. I started thinking about it, and wondered what would happen if I didn’t. I’m not sure of the hospital’s policy, but I have a feeling that they wouldn’t necessarily send me home if I showed up on my first day with pink hair.

Some of you might be thinking that I’m crazy for even considering doing this. I understand. Why start problems if you don’t have to, right? Yes, I get that. But my hair is as much a part of me as anything. Why should I have to change it just to blend in? Anyone who knows me will tell you that my bright hair simply matches my personality. If no one is going to be harmed by my hair, what’s the big deal?

My other option would be to show up with “normal” hair on my first day, and maybe for the first week, until everyone gets to know me. Then, I could think about dyeing it to something more fun. But that just seems kind of fake to me. And maybe I’d get a worse reaction if I did it that way.

The other thing to consider is that this is in fact a psychiatric rotation. I’ve worked in psych before, and I know that anything that draws attention to you can be both good and bad. Sometimes it might help to break the ice with a patient, but other times it might be the focus of some psychotic delusion. You have to be very careful.

So, that’s my hair dilemma. Yes, I know there are more important things to worry about other than the color of my hair. But this just happens to be on my mind today, so I thought I’d pose the question to all of you out there to get your feedback. Can a medical student have pink hair?

June 5, 2008 in Kendra Campbell | Permalink


I have a few thoughts and questions... (and because I don't know you, take what resonates and discard the rest.)

-The way we present ourselves is a reflection of who we are on the inside. The Chinese tradition of Feng Shui looks at our dress as a "second skin." (Our living environment is our third skin.)

-There is nothing inherently wrong with pink hair, and having pink hair won't make you less competent or caring as a doctor.

-The qualities that make you "march to a different drummer" are valuable and can make you an incredible asset to anyone you come in contact with.

-An important question to ask is, "Why do I need to stand out in this manner?"

-Do you come at your pink hair from a feeling that you have nothing inherent that will attract other's attention, so your outside must needs do?

-Do you feel as if it is important to let the people you come in contact with know that they are dealing with someone who takes her own counsel, who marches to a different tune, who doesn't accept the status quo, before they even have a chance to get to know you and discover these qualities for themselves?

-Do you have trouble with the idea of people getting close enough to you to discover who you are as a person, so you try and advertise who you are on the outside so people won't have to come too close?

-In a patient care setting, where all your attention must be focussed on the patient and his needs, any out of the ordinary presentation on your part shifts the focus to you.

-While pink hair may well be permissable, is it politic?

-The way we present ourselves can be used as a weapon or a tool for gaining influence.

-In wearing pink hair, you would be sending a message to your program directors about who you are as a person. While those qualities that the pink hair advertises are great qualities, they are not necessarily the qualities that a program director for residency looks for in a potential resident: docility, stability, put your head down and get the job done ability, etc..

-And while we can talk about not judging a book by its cover, the fact of the matter is we do, every day, in every encounter we make. It is part of how we interact as a species. Your appearance can help or hinder the interaction you have with patients/superiours.

-It's not about becoming someone you're not, it's about emphasizing those parts of you that will get you where you want to go and will be the best for the patient.

-You can use your appearance to influence the interactions you have.

So, I'd have to say that I'm against the pink hair in a professional medical setting. I don't think it serves you as a medical student and potential resident, and I definately don't think it serves the patients.

Posted by: Beach Bum | Jun 5, 2008 10:20:25 AM

I think they'll send you home.

Posted by: Ray | Jun 5, 2008 11:58:59 AM

Well I don't know about the US but I'd say it most likely also depends on how high/broad your hair is (which might make it knock stuff around) or if it's just hair or if you complement it with lots of pearcings and related stuff :) I worked in a hospital for a short while pre-med school already, and you had to fill out some form where you basically stated that jewellery/personal/clothes/hairdos would not interfere with you work in any way. This also included how it might look for patients, but I think just short pink hair would have been o.k.

Posted by: flo | Jun 5, 2008 12:49:46 PM

Just a comment. Joe gave my semester (4) the riot act regarding our actions during rotations. Tread lightly.

Posted by: Jared | Jun 5, 2008 1:02:03 PM

you shouldn't even have to ask about this. right or not, people are judged by their appearance.

as a med student, not only do you represent yourself, but your university and the medical profession. there is a time and a place for everything and i can only imagine the response from your peers, superiors and most importantly patients. you should no more have pink hair in this setting then you should wear shorts, tshirt and sandals.

sorry but its not like you work at starbucks or something here...there is an expectation when it comes to the medical profession and i'm sure you'll live up to that or like the previous poster said, they'll probably send you home. good luck!

Posted by: kev | Jun 5, 2008 2:12:20 PM

if you were at our school, you would be sent home with no questions asked.

Posted by: renogirl | Jun 5, 2008 4:46:10 PM

Hmmm, I am covered in tattoos and even when I was a social worker, before medical school, I covered them, mostly.
Now that I am in medical school, I do the same. For patients, and to avoid the inevitable 'judgment' by my peers. And yes, I do care. This is the most important activity in my life, and I refuse to compromise it.
I believe you are living in a fantasy world.

I am pretty sure if you went to school in the states, and had extensive patient interaction throughout your education, you would know that after showing up with pink hair....you will get sent home.
The program director could care less that you think your hair reflects who you are, or that you can competently interact with patients.

Good luck.

Posted by: alexia | Jun 5, 2008 7:43:01 PM

While I can sympathize with your desire to show your free spirit and personality (I skew the attitudinal bell curve a bit myself), I believe that, especially in a psych rotation, you have to tone it down, literally and figuratively. You are there to assess and assist your patient with their psyche, not to advertise yours in a showy way. Believe me, those patients who would gravitate to a free-spirited physician will figure it out on their own. Good luck!

Posted by: Nurse April | Jun 6, 2008 5:08:16 AM

has anyone seen the movie patch adams?

i met dr. patch adams when he was a guest lecturer at my school in the caribbean. his hair had a split down the middle where one side was bright white and the other side was pitch black. he had a colleague with him, another doctor, with rainbow colored clown hair, white makeup, and a red nose.

thats how they dress for treating their patients. and they have many patients.

however, i do agree that majority of the program directors out there are conservative, unfortunately. i hope you find a happy medium. maybe you'll be the next patch adams!

Posted by: doctor thuc | Jun 6, 2008 1:16:29 PM

I am replying to something you said (quote below). I have, as well, worked in the mental health field for the last 10 years. I have never seen any of the people with schizophrenia have some "psychotic delusion" because someone working with them had something like pink hair. What are you even talking about?

You said: "I’ve worked in psych before, and I know that anything that draws attention to you can be both good and bad. Sometimes it might help to break the ice with a patient, but other times it might be the focus of some psychotic delusion. You have to be very careful."

Posted by: Christa | Jun 6, 2008 3:52:56 PM

Hi Kendra

No matter how cool I think your pink hair is... I would err on the side of caution and not show up with pink hair on your first day. (now granted - I went to med school in ultra-conservative Texas - but you would be thrown out before even starting). Try to cut back on your desire to express yourself until you are in residency... and preferably more than a few weeks into intern year... you will save yourself a lot of heartaches. It's not that it's not allowed, but "people" expect doctors to dress a certain way, including hair style. Medicine is unfortunately a very conservative field where nothing changes quickly. I would try to show your personality with bold colored outfits - which are accepted - rather than bold colored hair. Once you reach the attending level - like dr Patch Adams - nobody will care. Until then, best to 'stick with the masses'. Enjoy your first rotations though! You will have a great time!

Posted by: Em | Jun 7, 2008 11:03:27 AM

i think pinky hair is totaly not acceple from dr it can has bad reflect on pateint & other dr

Posted by: | Jun 10, 2008 12:42:10 AM

While someone who needs special attention, such as psychiatric patients may need the pick, One might presume you have the professionalism to allow them to express themselves. You shouldn't "need" it at this time. There will be a place and time, but if you want someone to take you seriously, go brown. It will always be dyeable, and around cancer patients, might be really fun. Save the psych patients the strangeness. They're having a hard enough time.

Posted by: Nancy B. | Jun 10, 2008 3:19:57 PM

While I respect individuality and self-expression...I think the bottom line of who you should be thinking about is THE PATIENT.

Strutting in with your pink hair challenges the patient to either accept you or not. It's not fair to them to have to make that sort of decision especially when they may not be in the best state of mind. Not everyone is understanding, accepting, or forgiving...and as someone who is providing a service to them, I don't think it's fair to force your values on them.

Posted by: T | Jun 10, 2008 3:26:07 PM

what about a wig for the psych rotation? my reasoning is that particularly in psych, you want "it" to be about the patient, not about you. a good psychiatrist can take themselves away to keep the focus on the patient, and that's hard to do w/pink hair. i know many psychiatrists and the last thing most of them care about is expressing themselves, so it wouldn't shock me senseless if psych isn't really for you. if you put up with the wig for what i assume is a short experience, then you can decide about
the self expression thing later.

on the plus side, the program director of our emergency medicine residency program has as of yesterday (changes frequently) pink, blue and purple streaks in dark red hair. the right program and the right specialty will make this a non-issue. and we are probably the most conservative med school, and definitely one of the most conservative states.

i like the pic and it works for you, i just can't help remembering an undergrad in my office who was very disturbed by one of my paintings (he was actively psychotic at the time). the apples in the painting were apparently breathing and making him feel very queasy, so i offered to turn it to the wall and he thought that was considerate. please remember that some of the rough tough psychoses have a strong perceptual component, and some meds can exacerbate that. i'm thinking about the intensity, not the pinkness per se. i also have a feeling from a recent 6 day inpatient surgical adventure that if i have enough morphine on board i might puke on your shoes ;-) again, it's the intensity, not anything about self-expression, that i'm responding to. if you don't mind a little extra puking on wards, go for it! but psych and maybe nicu, i wouldn't, and a wig would let you have it both ways for the short time you're there.

it looks great on you, btw.

the other stuff isn't important, i don't think.

Posted by: anne vinsel | Jun 10, 2008 3:28:57 PM

While I respect your desire to assert your individuality, I would just want to remind you that it's difficult enough to gain the respect and trust of patients when you are starting out as a new doctor, and even harder when you look young. You certainly don't need anything else standing in the way.

Posted by: sara | Jun 10, 2008 3:31:25 PM

I am also a fan of multi-hued hair and dye my hair often - I found that while in med school and doing my clinical internship playing by their rules was important to them and to my progressing in my field - so natural it was - now that I am in private practice my hair color is back to being my mood ring - and I have found that I attract the patients who really don't care.

Posted by: heather j | Jun 10, 2008 3:34:31 PM

You said your pink hair is part of "who you are"...this profession is not about you, it's about taking care of others. Hopefully you just proposed this topic as food for thought...but if you decide to gothrough with your "statement," don't be surprised or disappointed with the outcome.

Posted by: JC | Jun 10, 2008 3:36:38 PM

i was in a similar place at the start of my third year, except it involved multiple ear piercings (the pink hair having disappeared shortly after undergrad). all it took was a standardized patient telling me my piercings were distracting, and i took them out. i got the message and have not regretted losing them, because i realized i didn't need to wear my freakiness on my shoulder anymore. now there is nothing small like that standing in the way of having great rapport with my patients.

yes, your hair is part of your personality and sets you apart. but it might make your patients feel uncomfortable. even though these days we are exposed to brightly colored hair, tattoos and piercings all the time, there are bound to be patients who don't feel comfortable with their doctor having them. they might even be ok with it in other industries, but medicine is as conservative as it gets. you don't want to give a patient any reason to doubt that you are fully competent, especially not just because of your hair color. challenging assumptions can be great, but really isn't a good idea on what is usually the worst time in a patient's life.

i know that the last thing you'd want to do is make a patient feel uncomfortable, so please consider keeping your hair somewhat conservative while you're seeing patients. it's not to say you have to be all barbie or anything, you can still have some cool haircuts and even go into darker burgundy or something, but keep it professional and realize at this point in your life you can set yourself apart from everyone else more with your actions as a physician than with your hair color.

Posted by: | Jun 10, 2008 3:40:27 PM

At least you have the awareness to know it might be an issue. Would you feel it's your responsibility to check at the hospital ahead of time before showing up this way? Maybe they have an answer that might be something you haven't considered.

This isn't about you. This is about your patients. They need to have confidence in you. You are a "trusted" healthcare provider. This trust goes beyond your degree and you have a responsibility to nurture that trust. Saying that, you have a responsibility to consider their expectations-- would pink hair be what is expected from a doctor by a patient?

Your provocativeness and daring will probably be a tremendous asset that will serve you well in life, but not considering to notify the hospital to at least get a consult in advance, is reckless and shows inconsideration.

Posted by: Diego Rivera | Jun 10, 2008 3:42:56 PM

Some people don't have the social skills to be doctors.

Posted by: | Jun 10, 2008 3:42:57 PM

Judging by this and other blog posts you have written, I have one question: How did you ever get into medical school? I am an American Indian and I had long hair and an ear ring before medical school. You can bet I got a hair cut and don't wear my ear ring to interviews or class even though my cultural expression goes way beyond something immature like pink hair. I certainly wouldn't go to a doctor who has pink hair, tattoos, body piercings (anything besides ears), or anything else that screams "I am immature and wreckless." If you walked in with pink hair, or anything punk looking, I wouldn't hesitate to walk right out of the exam room, leaving you standing there with a puzzled look on your face and an empty chart in your hand.

Posted by: Justin | Jun 10, 2008 3:45:13 PM

As many already suggested, medicine (especially psychiatry) is not about you. Sporting bright pink hair might be construed to be insensitve on a cancer ward. (Even more so.) Is your hair your only way to self-fulfillingly express yourself?

You could do the most fantastic job looking average, fitting in by having the openess of mind and courage NOT to fit in without acting it out. It's not accessories that make a person. Methinks.

Posted by: | Jun 10, 2008 3:46:52 PM

How about showing up a few days before with a hat on and a bottle of hair dye in your hand and ask if they would prefer you keep the pink? Pink is popular with breast cancer awareness and there's also the possibility that children would open up more to you.

Posted by: mandy | Jun 10, 2008 3:49:03 PM

There comes a day when each of us is expected to grow up. That you are in medical school and that day has not yet officially arrived for you is evidenced by your "dilemna." You're not alone in this. Americans have been very successful at extending their adolescences over the last generation or so. For med students this compulsion, that might have grown boring years ago for those pursuing a less conservative profession, can assert or reassert itself with authority during the early years of medical school. If you've suppressed your wild side your whole life trying not to rock the boat so as not to piss off God-knows-who who will have ultimate control of your destiny, the first couple years of med school are a relatively sheltered time to let loose. But those days are now over for you, as they are for everyone who reaches adulthood. And let me say this: adulthood gets a bad rap. It is often a boring state, comprised of boring individuals, but it need not be. Anyone can say "Hey, I'm different!" with a pink mohawk. But mustering a unique and compelling personality to match is the trick. And maintaining it in this judgmental profession to which we aspire is even trickier. So cut the hair, for God's sake. Look the part, act professionally, and always maintain and nurture your essential uniqueness in less obvious, but more honest, ways.

Posted by: Mike | Jun 10, 2008 3:49:23 PM

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