The New York Times ran an interesting opinion piece last week (forgive the lateness of this entry, but it was Thanksgiving!) about the need for more conservative or formal dress codes for medical students. The author, Dr. Erin Marcus, is an assistant professor at the University of Miami's medical school. She noted numerous examples of students dressing in a way that, in her view, undermined their ability to do their job and to be taken seriously by patients, colleagues, professors, board examiners, malpractice lawyers, the general population, etc. (you name the demographic, it was there).
Fair enough -- I can imagine that it's sometimes difficult to get patients (not to mention the other constituencies included in Marcus's article) to take medical students and relatively inexperienced residents seriously. The problem? Marcus's main issue seems to be with women students -- with the exception of one brief aside about a male doctor showing up unshaven one day, the remainder of the article zeroes in on women medical students, and their hair, shoes, cleavage, skirt length, and midriffs.
The problem with this categorization from a Title IX perspective is something that Marcus herself raises: "research has also found that physician clothing can influence scores on board certification oral exams, in which a senior doctor assesses a younger doctor’s medical knowledge." If the perception by senior doctors that younger doctors are less qualified because of the way they dress, and the main detriment is suffered by women medical students and doctors, there's a real problem with disparate treatment and gender stereotyping that needs to be addressed.
Marcus was clearly trying to be helpful to medical students in telling them that wearing more formal or conservative clothes might be beneficial to them in the long run in terms of getting jobs, making patients comfortable around them and passing exams. No doubt there's a lot of value to her observations. The problem is when the message is being sent pretty much only to women.