Aimee Smith, DO, started with just coloring the tips of her hair about three years ago on a whim. Today, her entire head is brightly colored, an array of shades that stretch from roots to ends.
“It gives me an additional conversation point with patients,” says Dr. Smith, the clinical director of maternal medicine at the Institute for Family Health Kingston in Kingston, New York.
The reaction from patients has been, “overwhelmingly positive,” says Dr. Smith, who changes her color every six to eight weeks. Several of her colleagues have tried non-standard colors of their own since the debut of her colorful tresses.
“I am sure there are people who find it inappropriate for a physician to have non-standard hair color, but my hair has no effect on my ability to care for patients,” she says.
Many hospitals and clinics have dress codes that require physicians to stick to conventional hairstyles and colors. But across the country, physicians who have the freedom to express themselves through their hair are doing so. Many find that their attention-grabbing tresses often spark conversations and connections with patients.
Morgan Long, OMS III at Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, waited until after her acceptance into medical school before going with a short-on-sides-long-on-top cut, a style she’d always wanted.
Long, whose favorite singer, Justin Courtney Pierre, inspired her cut, gets a lot of compliments from patients about her hair but says the majority don’t seem to notice it.
As a future physician, Long is learning how to treat the mind, body, and spirit. “Everyone should be free to live authentically,” she says. “For me, having a hairstyle that allows me to really like what I see in the mirror has helped me to be my genuine self.”
When Jessica Kiss, DO, started getting gray hair, she decided to dye it. “I figured, why not make it a rainbow?” she says.
Initially, her colleagues were concerned with how their conservative community of patients would respond. “So we made a deal that if even one patient complained, I would dye it back immediately,” Dr. Kiss says. “That was two years ago and it’s still bright.”
Her patients love her hair, says Dr. Kiss, a family medicine physician in private practice at Palos Verdes Medical Group in Rolling Hills Estates, California.
“I tell kids who see me that I’m a unicorn doctor and it really helps them feel more comfortable with me,” she says. “I’ve inspired three of my geriatric patients to dye their hair in bright colors.”
Bold and blonde
Taylor Swift, Elle Woods and Marilyn Monroe inspired Ryan Barlow, DO, to go platinum blonde.
“Younger patients tend to not react really at all, as if it’s totally normal and they have no reason to comment,” he says. “I’ve had the most positive reactions from my older patients. They tend to be more excited to give a compliment.”
Self-expression contributes to well-being, says Dr. Barlow, a primary care physician at Downey Urgent Care in Los Angeles
“Providing health care is often a stressful job and burnout is real,” he says. “Do what you need to do to love and care for yourself so you can then care for others.”
Regan Dulin, DO, had surgery recently and was losing her hair. She’d also lost a great deal of weight, nearly 100 pounds. “I wanted to feel younger and sassy,” she says.
She went from shoulder-length to very short. “This is me to a T,” she says. “It’s easy, fun and no fuss. My colleagues seem to like it and I get many compliments from patients.”
The style displays self-confidence and independence, says Dr. Dulin, who practices functional medicine at Cotton O’Neil clinic in Manhattan, Kansas.
“If my employer didn’t have rules against it, I might go try different colors too, but they do,” she says.
Leading by example
Janelle Whitt, DO, went short because of the convenience while in medical school, but has kept a short-on-sides-long-on-top cut because it brings personality to her practice.
“We are people first and doctors somewhere down the line of all the hats we wear on any given day,” says Dr. Whitt, an attending physician and medical director at OU Tulsa Community Health in Owasso, Oklahoma. “I have to be true to myself first and for me, that means short hair and bow ties.”
The reaction from patients has been positive. “Some of my little boys have the same cut and some of my older women say they want to have their hair ‘stick up,'” she says.