By Alyssa Brown
Blue, white, red, yellow, pink, and brown. These are the colors of the ties and the strip of fabric around the scrub pants and scrub tops. Maybe it sounds dramatic, but it always felt like a Scarlet Letter to me. The colors indicate the size of the scrubs. My friends always complained about not being able to find smalls and mediums, and I would shrink back a little more.
At the start of medical school, I would squeeze into the red top and red pants. These were the larges. It was so easy to see who was smaller or larger than you because of this. I felt uncomfortable because I knew how many other people were smaller than me. I was worried they were judging this too. I had spent years growing up uncomfortable. The southern term for it is being big boned, and everyone in my family is big boned. On the golf team in college, I was used to having to order the biggest size on the team, and it made me uncomfortable. It was slightly illogical because I was also the tallest and strongest on the team, but it was ingrained in me to feel uncomfortable with my size.
Maybe I overthink it, and no one else cares what size of scrubs I am wearing, but I noticed. By the end of third year, I started wearing yellow bottom scrubs (XL) and red tops. The irregular eating in the hospital led me to increase in size. Also, I was tired of squeezing into the smaller bottoms. My friends did not have this problem. They often lost weight throughout medical school. They ate less and less because of stress, while I ate more.
During my third year, I started feeling more and more uncomfortable with comments that people made to patients and to me about weight. I can’t count the times that people commented on how the patients should just lose weight and how they could just eat less. They would call them obese or fatties, but I knew how much they weighed and knew it was close to my own weight. I was acutely aware of the struggles of trying to lose weight. Sometimes it is not as easy or simple as just losing weight.
One situation stuck out to me. I was stretching my calves after a long case, and I asked the other student with me if his calves were stiff too. He responded that mine were probably just sore because I was fat. I didn’t know what to say. I just turned around and left the operating room. I never said anything to him about it. I just ignored the fact that he said it. I should not have. It wasn’t fair for him to say it. My calves were stiff because of the long operation, not because of my weight. It confirmed my fears that everyone was judging me for my size.
When I came back for fourth year, I moved into pink top scrubs and pink bottoms (XXL). I knew I had gained weight, and this was just another reminder. I have worried on the interview trail this year about being judged for being bigger. I don’t often see people that are my size. I almost always see thinner students. I worry that it is an unspoken thing that I will be judged on, which is supported by data in studies of graduate school admissions and radiology interview invites. I worry the people interviewing me will view me as lacking discipline for being overweight or that I am unfit to be a surgeon because of it. Despite the fact that I am strong. I get around the hospital just fine. I take care of the patients like everyone else. I do not want to be judged for my appearance, even though I know I will inevitably be.
I’ll try to focus less on the color of scrubs I fit into. I realize they are just scrubs, and their size does not indicate anything about who I am as a person or the surgeon I will become.
Alyssa Brown grew up in Chattanooga, TN. She went to Centre College for a B.S. in Biology and minor in History. She fell in love with surgery after seeing her mentor perform an anoplasty during the first year of medical school. She finished her third year of medical school in 2018 and wandered off the beaten path to get a PhD, before finishing her MD. She is receiving her MD degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and her PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology at Mayo Clinic School of Biomedical Sciences. She is in her fourth year of medical school back at Louisville and is in the application cycle for general surgery residency. Her thesis research is on diaphragm muscle mitochondrial function and morphology, which she will defend in March. She also participates in research projects focused on physician infertility, student mental health, and pediatric surgery. She has been a part of the AWS Blog Subcommittee and AWS Instagram Subcommittee for three years, and she has loved writing pieces for the blog over the past years. During the pandemic, you will probably find her baking sweets and pastries that she saw on “Great British Bake-Off,” or embroidering. You can find her on Instagram @Alyssa_b_futuremdphd and on Twitter @Alyssa_B_MDPhD.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.