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A Doctor’s Perspective on Natural Hair in the Workplace

People are often shocked when I tell them I am a doctor. Even though it has happened too many times to tell, I still sometimes find myself asking, Why? Mostly, I think it’s because I look so young (thanks for the genes Mommy!). It could also be that I am a woman (thanks Daddy, totally couldn’t do the whole man-thing). But, I would be lying if a tiny part of me didn’t believe that some of the time it’s because of my rich, chocolaty, glowing skin. That’s right! I am young, female and BLACK. Like, really black; dark and smooth. And I have a head full of natural hair. I am a force to be reckoned with. I walk into my ER with my glowing skin, big afro and get to work; clearing house, cackling with my nurses, smiling graciously and kindly to my patients, and basically running the hell out of my room. Oh and I am the Associate Director of my ER. Yup! Bright, Bold and a Boss. I love it. I love coming to work. I love (most of) my patients. I love doing my job and doing it well.

But this confidence did not come by easily or swiftly. I love my skin (now) and I adore my hair. But I know I am not the only one that thinks too often: “What do I do with my hair for work?” It may sound trivial, but as so many of my professional chocolate Empirelistas know, it can be a major struggle to find balance between still feeling like yourself and being taken seriously in the workplace. I mean, even with my stethoscope, white coat, a big ol’ physicians badge, I still have been asked “Who are you again?” or have patients swear to the nurse the Doctor had not been in to see them yet. Really?! (Breath.) Were they distracted by my afro, my long box braids, cornrows or whatever style I chose at that time? I don’t know if any of these experiences have to do with my age, sex, race or my hair style. But, I will say killing them with kindness and keeping the fabulousness moving has worked best for me. Oh, you think I am not a doctor huh? Well watch this big fro’d sister save your life.

Sure, it would be nice if the way my hair grew directly from scalp was not seen as “fun”, “unkempt” or “difficult”. I wish I was not always asked “How long did it take to do that?!” or have people I have seen for months not recognize me just because of a new hair-do. I still recall in medical school when fresh off my high from my big chop, my Dean’s hands somehow ended up in my TWA (teeny weeny afro) as he exclaimed “Oh! This is fun!” Or how my colleague, who is now entering medical school, had her Caucasian male boss ask her, “So what are you going to do with your hair for interviews.” Really?! (Breath.)

No one is angry here. Believe me. But, to my sisters out there, the struggle is real and I get it. Keep being as fabulously fierce as you want to be. And as long as your true professionalism (NOT your hair) comes across as loudly as your fro-hawk twist out, I say keep it moving!

Dr. Gameli Dekayie-Amenu & Dr. Chantale Stephens-Archer are the co-founders of BestiesMD. As both best friends and physicians, they developed their company to provide medical information regarding women’s health issues on relatable & sisterly level.

3 Comments

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