Edgy Hair Don’t Care

Rainbow colors and shaved sides: Can DOs wear their hair any way they want?

Some of today’s DOs are rocking hairstyles that reflect who they are—and they say their unique tresses have improved their connections with patients.

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.

Aimee Smith, DO

“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.

Mission complete

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.

Morgan Long, OMS III

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.”

Rainbows rule

When Jessica Kiss, DO, started getting gray hair, she decided to dye it. “I figured, why not make it a rainbow?” she says.

Jessica Kiss, DO

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.

Ryan Barlow, DO

“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.”

Hair happy

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.

Regan Dulin, DO

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.

Janelle Whitt, DO

“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.

Related reading:

Should doctors show their tattoos at work? DOs speak out

Life outside medicine: These DOs paint, play music and raise chickens

12 comments

  1. I’ve been a DO for 31 years. I have always had very short hair. 30 years ago it was frequently a source for negative comments. I was subjected to hateful comments from many and even had to endure some people telling me my style was “against the Bible” or against God. My hair has never been colored and by today’s standard, my hairstyle is common. I am thrilled to see that today’s physicians don’t have to be restrained by some arbitrary guideline imposed by the patients. Things are looking up!

    1. I’m sorry but several of those hair styles and colorization too me are unprofessional. I would lose respect from patients and medical staff,

  2. I agree with showing your personality… being yourself. But, know your audience. If you work based upon referrals, then play to your audience. Look credible, not creepy. Look wise, not weird. Allow your actions to define you, not your hair or tattoos or piercings. Gaining trust is very difficult, don’t put yourself at a disadvantage.

    1. I have two tattoos but both are on my lower back which are easily covered. Don’t know your hospital or clinic’s policy regarding tattoos, but if there are no restrictions, I say go for it and wear short sleeves!

  3. This is the article I did not know I needed! Great to see some of these pics, I do not feel bad going red anymore. (I’m talking, super-hero RED red :)

  4. Love the article! I’ll be graduating from UNECOM May 18. 2019 and I am happy to say I’ve never had a negative comment about my dreadlocks and gages from colleagues or patients!! I’m also a 55 yo gramma – which just adds to more wonderful connections with my patients…

    1. Congrats on your graduation! As a nontraditional premed (albeit late 20s), I love that age knows no limits. Keep being you :)

  5. Wear whatever you feel is personally appropriate. It is your life and your choice. If it affects your patients opinion of you you will adjust. Back in the 70s I wore my hair long, consistent with my hobby of playing rock music. It made no difference, to my knowledge, and I rolled with the times. Had to cut the hair when I joined the Air Force and conform to the requirements of the military. now retired my hair went back to long.

  6. People ( and doctors)…..this is NOT about you…
    Take care of your patients…
    Leave drama and style points at home.

  7. I’m thinking of cutting my hair super short with one side shaved for the first time after years of long or medium length hair. As someone who has slowly been coming out as LGBTQ+, I don’t feel the need to conform to traditionally feminine hair styles. Fortunately, the outpatient mental health clinic where I work in Silicon Valley has a relaxed dress code, including no restriction on hair styles. I’m more concerned down the line if I go on med school interviews since I’ve read that the medical profession is typically conservative regarding dress. However, I don’t believe that a doctor’s hair style or color affects their ability to provide quality care for patients. I would have no issue if my doctor had an unusual hair cut or color as it would make them more relatable. I believe everyone should have the right to be who they are, and if unique hair styles or colors make doctors feel good about themselves, they should go for it!

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