Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Looking older

I've always looked young, and received countless remarks to the same as a medical student. The comments were made in a marveling or appreciative way, but as a novice struggling to project confidence and professionalism, I didn't find them helpful.
Aged 24. I am radiating something here, but it's not life experience.

Of course, it became much more tolerable a few years later when I was twenty-eight and being taken for twenty-two. And then I had three children, and I'd been in practice a few years, and comments on my age trailed off. One day last year a patient said to me, "You must be about my age - from 1974?" and I was shocked that he had nailed it. Shortly after, for the first time ever, I asked my hairdresser for a cut that would take a few years off. Now I have bangs.

Then last month my patient, a widowed Iraqi refugee with three teenaged daughters, asked me through the interpreter, "As a woman, how do you be strong, but kind and loving and forgiving at the same time?" She looked at me expectantly; she wanted an answer. And I recognized that this was less a patient asking a question of her doctor, and more a woman asking a question of another woman. I was moved that she would think I had any advice to give her. I am fifteen years her junior and certain that my life has not required the strength and forgiveness of me that hers has asked of her.

As I offered my ideas on the subject, I wondered whether the twenty-five-year-old me - ten years ago - would have had anything to say. I doubt it. In fact, I seriously doubt that anyone would have asked my fresh-faced self such a question in residency or early practice.

It is a rare moment when I acknowledge that there may be advantages to not being or looking twenty-two. If my aging suggests to patients that I have lived even a little, and have learned something from it, I am grateful for it.

Aged 35. Zoom in for crow's feet, dark smudges under eyes and four white hairs in those bangs.


  1. FreshMD, You are beautiful, and look great just the way you are.

    I often get comments (now age 32) that I look like a teenager, and it does bother me a little when I feel that my credibility is lowered just by how young I look. I recently got a perm, and was dismayed that most everyone thought I look younger with it. I know I'll be appreciative in another 20 years and people think I'm my son's sister (ha! one can hope for such youth!).

  2. FreshMD, I miss your blog. It's nice to sync the beautiful face to the beautifully-written blog.

  3. I'm such a bad judge of age and I think it's because I still feel like I'm I compare everyone to my 20 year old self. Than I look in the mirror and it comes back to me quickly that I have a few more years than that under my belt.
    It's been a while since you've written something...I've missed your words=)

  4. As a young doctor, I used to pray nightly for gray hair. My young male partner grew a beard to look older but that wasn't an option for me (thank goodness). Course,now I have it but the good news is, nobody ever asks me how many "insert proceduce/diagnosis of choice" have you done?

  5. I think you look better at 35 than you did at 24. The bangs are fabulous, and there is something angular and wonderful that happens to women's faces after children that I love. I didn't lose my chipmunk cheeks until after I had mine.

    The wisdom that I have gained, at 36 (almost 37!) is well worth the price of looking my age. I'll take age and wisdom any day over a youthful countenance.

  6. I took my med students out after our last class and for the first time, I did not have to pull out I.D. But a few gray hairs have made all the difference in day to day practice. Yesterday, my patient asked if he had given me my gray hairs( he had but at least he was there to ask the question).

  7. I'm 26, almost 27...I'm always getting carded and when I volunteer at the hospital every thinks that I'm 16. Anytime my kids come up in conversation everyone gasps in unison, then exclaim as one, "YOU have kids? How old ARE you?" People knock on my front door and ask if my mom is home. I'm glad to hear that one day, this might happen less frequently. :)

  8. Compared to my early self in practice, I find it much easier to elicit relevant stories from patients. Maybe I give them clues that they can trust me to understand, maybe the gray hair fosters the trust. Whatever. But then they followup with "you're not retiring soon and deserting me are you?"

  9. I got mistaken for my real age the other day! I'm 33. It was depressing because, since I started med school, I've been chronically mistaken for someone 7 years younger.

    I totally get you about how looking young lowers the amount of respect you get. Looking old as a woman mainly makes you invisible though -- to everybody except other women. Who really wants that?

  10. The UBC tag caught my eye on MiM and have since read several of your posts.

    Makes me miss Granville market and the Sea to Sky highway drive.

    Love your work--keep writing!!

    Signed, a fellow Canadian who will be far from home for a while yet...

  11. "You look too young to be a doctor," a patient I was preop-ing said to me. "How old are you?" (She was elderly, and the question did not at all come across as rude.)

    I chuckled and told her my age (not too far from 40) and that come this fall I'd officially be the mom of a teenager. She had to chuckle back and say, "Well, I guess you're older than you look!"

    I'm hoping this will just continue - that I'll get mistaken for 30 when I'm 40, 40 when I'm 50, etc.

    You are totally gorgeous, btw, and yes, I agree with the commenters above - it's wonderful to connect a face with your beautiful writing!

  12. I'm turning 35 & still get questions from my patients' parents about how old I am and how long I've been doing this. I wish I could look older by day and younger when I go home at night. But I sort of dread the day when people stop asking. By the end of an encounter I find they trust me because of what I say & how I say it, not because of how I look. To be honest, I kind of like it when I get mistaken for one of the residents :)

  13. What a lovely haircut, and gorgeous dark hair. I wish I could pull off the bangs so perfectly. I follow your blog because it is so much fun to read about the intersection of medicine and motherhood. I am an RN (and mother of toddler twins) but, always wanted to go to med school. I live vicariously through your revealing writings.

    Regarding your youthful twins were delivered by an OB younger than me, and she was outstanding. Age clearly has little bearing on actual care delivered. In my experience, age begets an eased pt/doc relationship, which pts equate with a "good doctor". Some people in medicine, as in all fields, just aren't as amiable as others...

  14. you looked lovely then, and lovely now.


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