Recently starched, its creases almost more prestigious than the garment
I place my arms through the sleeves and adjust the collar
Unable to contain my excitement for a chance to meet you
As I begin to walk down the hall, my head high, I imagine you
“What will be your chief complaint? Maybe shortness of breath or chest pain?”
“Will cancer or diabetes run in your family?”
As I knock on your door and enter the room,
I notice myself in the window’s glass
My teeth white,
My coat even whiter,
But the only color you see is black.
I had the opportunity to rotate with internal medicine physicians during my preclinical years. On the last day of the rotation, my attending asked a patient if he was open to a medical interview with a student. I enjoy speaking with patients, and I was excited to hear this patient’s story. The patient’s first question was: “is the student white?” In that moment, one of my worst fears was coming to fruition. I would likely be denied the opportunity to help someone because they held preconceived notions about my race. As I stood in the hallway for what felt like hours, my thoughts were racing. What if he tells me to leave because he does not want to talk to a black medical student? What would I say if he made a derogatory remark? However, no words came out. My attending gently told me to inform the patient that we are an equal opportunity hospital if he mentions race issues during the encounter. I did not know what was worse — the patient’s question or the attending’s answer. I did what I had been taught as a little girl when facing adversity. I held my head high and walked into the room determined to succeed. Fortunately, this patient did not demonstrate outright racism towards me, but I wonder what my response would be if he had.
My skin will always be darker than my coat, but I would not have it any other way. That day lingered in my mind after leaving the hospital and removing my white coat — the symbol of prestige. Two years later, I continue to wonder about his perspective. This poem juxtaposes the concepts of self-image and others’ perceptions. It seeks to reinforce the beauty of self-assurance in the reader’s mind. This interaction was my inspiration for the poem.