Appearance over Ability – Customs at the Medical Schools
My university judges me on the way I dress, the way I talk and the way I present myself in public. My university doesn’t allow me to be myself; they want to robotically program their ideals; they don’t want to hone my uniqueness, my talent nor my ideals. They want me to be a monkey that follows the master’s commands.
I am the frustrated student of a medical school in Pakistan who feels imprisoned; I am a student that wishes to explore his ideals and his beliefs rather than having them imposed on me. I am a student that wishes to have the ability to explore more than just books and medical journals; I am a student that wishes to be educated rather than being forced to memorize all the books in the medical library.
A fairly able student ties her hair back, puts on glasses and wears clothes that do not resemble what she would wear on a normal day. She puts on this costume of innocence to squeeze a couple of marks in the viva; this theatrical performance never made sense to me. I never gave in to such customs: My wrinkled lab coat gets a deathly stare from my examiners and my un-tucked T-shirt gives me the hearing of a second class citizen.
I stare down judgmental eyes as I enter the exam room; I now realize nobody without a dress pant and a collared shirt can ever be respected nor can they ever be knowledgeable. My honesty gets chastised; I am expected to perform a Broadway show complete with costumes. This monotony of clothing hides my personality and my individuality let alone forcing me to lie.
How do my clothes reflect my knowledge or my ability? Why should I wear clothes forced upon by hypocritical cultural standards? Sure someone will pass the argument of appropriate attire for an examination hall and the frail respect that represents; let me take this argument outside the examination hall. Let’s enter the gates of the university where as soon as I enter, a person is breathing down my neck asking “beta, where is your lab coat?” How does the lab coat influence my ability to study?
I understand a lab coat in a hospital setting where it serves as an identification tool for doctors. How does a lab coat bring anything but hindrance to the typical student especially in the burning temperatures that befall Karachi? Then let’s continue on to the ever judgmental eyes if one ever wears slippers or shorts to university. Slippers are easy to put on every morning and shorts are comfortable to wear in the heat.
Why should one be forced to merely “look” professional, through a dress pant, collared shirt and a lab coat, to appease the judgmental eyes of our society? My idea of professionalism comes from my ability and willingness to perform not from the clothes I pick out of my closet. This reliance on appearance needs to stop, the judgment needs to stop, and abilities need to be judged not my wardrobe collection.
When my wardrobe is judged and not my abilities, it proves to me that the world doesn’t care if my abilities are up to task as long as I present myself well. It proves to me that it’s ok to use my appearance to trick the unsuspecting individual.
Education, as defined by psychology, is a relative change in behavior due to something learnt or acquired. This definition highlights what our medical education doesn’t provide. Our medical education doesn’t introduce us to the unusual (I’m not talking about pathological cases), and it doesn’t force us to explore areas that we are uncomfortable with.
Our by the book education system doesn’t explore anything other than what’s provided in the text; they expect us to memorize, not learn. A simple English class in my former school, the Karachi American School, Karachi, Pakistan, we questioned religion, we questioned values and we questioned beliefs. This discussion sometimes unsettled me but it made me tolerant and understanding.
Similarly education abroad introduces everyone to different cultures, societies and quite simply different ways of life. What does this simple fact do? It introduces us to people with different religions and different customs that completely differ from our personal experience. This changes our own behavior where we start to realize that there are other ways of life, other ways to exist.
This increased level of tolerance and understanding is education. The realization that we aren’t always right is education. To attain such a level of education we don’t need foreign students as that may be an impossible feat in a country like Pakistan.
We need inspirational teachers who can question us to our fundamentals and a level of security that keeps us safe. We need teachers that dare to explore the taboo, however, unsettling it may be. We need a secure environment that promotes our ability to question not chastise it as we are students of science.
I, for one, don’t feel safe expressing my differing opinions in the fear that the college monarchy will crush me. This should not be the way of a university that is so geared towards science and yet we don’t follow its fundamental law: Don’t take anything for granted and question everything. We need a university that can help us grow as people not just grow our medical knowledge through memorization for that will make us understanding doctors and in the end understanding people.
The medical education here gives us the information to become successful, by the book, doctors but it never teaches us any morals or ethics. It doesn’t give us any freedom to explore the world and punishes us when we ask otherwise. The university supposedly basis its ideas on science and exploration but neither does it let us question nor explore; how can we name this a medical university? The university has to become more open to foreign ideas and has to let its student explore venues other than what is presented in the curriculum. This scientific university needs to promote the philosophical mind, not suppress it like a forgotten memory.
About the author: Nauman Hashmani is a medical student at Dow Medical College, Karachi, Pakistan. He is an aspiring writer and wants to challenge the culture of his society. He can be reached at: [email protected]
About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2012 for the theme: Medical Education
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