Saturday, January 8, 2011
Retiring the Black Suit
I can now hang my black suit in the back of my closet.
Selecting this suit was an achievement, purchased 24 hours before my first residency interview, when I was in Union Square madly rushing through virtually every possible store that sold suits. As I tried on more and more suits, I became increasingly frustrated with the suits making the "no" pile. Some were too tight or big, others were too dated, and some were just plain unsightly. It was like every line of women's suits were meant for the figure of a man or a women without curves. Just when I was about to give up and resort to recycling my suit from medical school interviews, I unexpectedly stumbled on the suit. It was staring at me from the large display window.
I instantly loved it for it's simplicity and elegance. A classic look. It was solid black with a stylish fitted blazer and tailored trousers with a slight flare. It was a perfect fit. Well, as perfect can be for a misfit, like myself.
Although I have become accustomed to the loose-fitted and unflattering appearance of scrubs, I was looking for a new look. My little brother, Musa, has an eye for fashion with the ability to pull off any look--business, sporty, or casual. He has compared my fashion style to that of a glorified graduate student (on a good day) and a grade school teacher (on every other day). Although he is my biggest fashion critic, I appreciate his brutal honesty and I do agree. I can sometimes go overboard with argyle, cardigan sweaters, khaki pants, and black trousers. For once, I wanted to prove to him that I do know a thing or two about style.
More than anything else, a new sleek black suit accompanied with stiletto heels was exactly what I needed to for reinvention and a new beginning--the start of residency interviews.
My black suit has become my travel companion through a series of interviews throughout the nation. Before each trip, I carefully folded the blazer and trousers to preserve the natural creases. To accompany the suit, I selected two shirts, one traditional green collar shirt and one purple blouse with a scoped neck. The night before each interview, I completed my preinterview ritual; I pulled out the suit and ironed out the wrinkles. With all this experience, I have become quite skilled with the iron.
Initially, the black fabric was like armor, snugly hugging my skin, making moving uncomfortable, sitting impossible, and breathing uncomfortable. The suit forced me to pay close attention to my posture. So, in my first interviews, I initially squirmed in my seat, but later learned to sit up straight. And with every subsequent interview, the stiff suit loosened it's grip on my body, allowing me to breath and move with ease from one interview to another.
Now, with my last interview completed, my suit has been scarred from the interview circuit. The once sleek and sharp suit has become overpowered by signs of overuse. The previous fitted blazer and trousers have become looser and the sharp creases have become less defined and are replaced by new wrinkles. The perfect black fabric has been sullied with food stains from the interview lunches, patches of lint from sitting in my luggage, and burn marks from my initial attempts to master the intricacies of selecting the correct temperature settings on irons at different hotels. A loose button dangles from the front of the blazer, sustained by a single thread.
In many ways, I feel like this black suit. At the start of the interview trail over three months ago, I started out fresh, vibrant, and energetic. I was excited to travel and visit new cities and share my story and passion for the career path I have chosen with complete strangers. And with more interview experience, I have become accustomed to the regimented interview schedule, usual interview questions (why obgyn? why our program?), traveling in whirl-wind trips lasting less than 24 hours, and navigating new cities. And through it all, I have quickly learned how arbitrary this process becomes as you are reduced to a number on a rank list.
If I had to sum up the entire residency application process, it can best be described as professional speed dating. With limited information, applicants and programs engage in an unusual courting ritual. Before the interview, we get a preliminary look of each other. Programs view our lives on paper and we do our homework, learning from each program's website. And if we like each other, we get to meet during the interview. And when we meet, we put our best face forward. We have only a few hours to learn about each other and figure out if we are suited for each other. That is, we must decide how much we are willing to commit to each other for a four year professional marriage. And in this odd dance, we are forced to make crucial decisions with limited data, sometimes relying on the feeling we get from our visit and awkward interactions.
Like the over worn black suit, I am starting to feel overextended and tired.
The process has been expensive and exhausting. Along with interview invitations, a string of rejections have been trickling into my inbox. The feeling of rejection stings every time you read the words "we regret to inform you..." At times, I know that being placed in the "no" pile is just a necessary part of a process that stratifies applicants based on their worth to a program. But it still hurts to feel worthless by these program's standards.
Even after I am granted an interview, I find myself evaluating who I am on paper--my board scores, grades, medical school achievements, and personal statement--wondering about my professional value. Do I sound smart or interesting enough to make the rank list at each program I visit? And as unique as I am, I am starting to feel like one suit in a sea of hundreds of black and gray applicants.
I wonder, when hundreds of suits walk through the process, how will I be remembered? I am good enough? I still worry if I left a lasting (or any impression) at the programs I visited. I can only hope my package is sleek and chic enough to impress the interviewer I met for thirty minutes before she makes a decision about my ranking and my future.
Despite the complaints and griping, I feel lucky to be considered at many unique and exceptional program throughout the United States. In addition, the process is a learning experience and I have been able to visit many new places in our great country, rack up frequent flier miles, and meet so many interesting people on the circuit.
In my heart, I know things will work out. At this point, a part of me has accepted the inevitable, knowing there is only so much I can do control the outcome in this arbitrary process. Ultimately, I can just hope and pray for the best.
At least the interview process has ended. It's time to retire the black suit and move to the next phase of the process, which is even more daunting. I have to generate a rank list.
In the meantime, I will work on redefining my style. Recommendations are welcome.