“Pretend you are going to be interviewed by a conservative, old white man in a bowtie”.
This was the advice I was given when I asked what I should wear, how I should do my hair, and how I should present myself when I interviewed for medical school. I remembered those words when I interviewed for every step of my journey in medicine since, including 1 residency, 3 fellowships, and my first “real” job as an attending. I wore conservative-colored suits (I remember my younger brother telling me I looked like a flight attendant before one interview- not the look I was going for, but okay), always straightened my hair (I never wore my natural curls), and I always thought of that advice before every interview- conservative, old, white, man, bowtie.
Fast forward to “attending’hood”, I would never heed that advice. I started wearing my hair curly as a protest to what “professional” hair should look like, presented on stage in pink blazers and dresses, and brought my whole self to work. When I interview prospective internal medicine residents or cardiology fellows, the most important 3 pieces of their application in my opinion are their letters of recommendation, their personal statement, and their extracurricular activities outside of medicine. While the abstracts, presentations, and publications are fantastic, they do not tell me who you are as a human being. From the letters, you get a glimpse of how others see the applicant, from the personal statement you hear a story, and from the extracurricular activities you learn about passions. My favorite part of the interviews is talking to candidates about who they are, what lights that fire within them, and what kind of vibe they bring to medicine. When I read your application, I want to know your story.
I love what I do in medicine- advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology- I love the research I do but I also love my life outside of medicine. And I am always confused when people are surprised that I love college football, I love LeBron James, my favorite radio show is The Breakfast Club, and I listen to trap music. I love going to concerts, throwing outrageous birthday parties, and going on girls’ trips. I care deeply about equity in medicine and politics that affect the most vulnerable among us and will continue to work my butt off to crush inequities in organ allocation. To me, these are not 2 different worlds. This is just my whole world. So yes, I will keep bringing my whole self to work.
To be completely honest, I am not sure how I should advise my mentees, most of whom are women and men of color, on how to dress or style their hair or carry themselves during their interviews. People of color are judged more harshly, and I would not want my advice of bringing your whole self to the interview be the reason they did not get the position. But then again, who wants to be at a place that does not accept all of them.
I still say, bring your whole self. Every part of it. The authentic you.
And to my mentees I say, continue sharing your magic with a world that desperately needs it.
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Nasrien E. Ibrahim, MD is an Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiologist and Director of Heart Failure Research at Inova Heart & Vascular Institute. She is interested in biomarkers, cardiac remodeling, access to healthcare, understanding mechanisms of health inequities, and women’s leadership in academia. She loves college basketball, hip hop, the beach, and LeBron James. You can follow her at @DrNasrien