Gone are the days where you need to suppress your personal style to work in a corporate environment. In fact, at The Fold they’ve made it their mission to create the types of pieces that allow you to feel confident and put your best foot forward in the workplace. It’s a passion shared by Jesse Berry, too.
An ocular oncologist by day, Berry spends her time outside work empowering female surgeons and doctors to allow their personal style to shine on-duty through her style blog, ModaMD. “I was told not to wear pink to my Harvard Medical School interview so that I would be treated seriously… And experiences like that aren’t just mine. In speaking to other powerhouse female physicians, I realised that they’ve all been told similar things and feel conscripted to a certain style that doesn’t suit them in order to be taken seriously,” she says. “If the blog empowers them not to feel hindered by society or career constructs then I have made a small difference.”
When we caught up, we spoke about her journey into oncology and tips on how to incorporate your style into your work wardrobe and quizzed her on how she manages to juggle both.
On her career journey – becoming an oncologist…
I grew up in Wisconsin, and for as long as I remember I wanted to be a doctor. There are lots of meaningful ways to ‘help’ people but I was really fascinated by the ability to hone a surgical skillset so that I could actually use my hands to fix things. Operating is, and probably always will be, one of the best parts of my career.
After Wisconsin, I moved to Boston for Harvard College and Medical School and absolutely loved the East Coast, the academic culture in Boston and city life. I entered medical school considering public health and did a mission in Africa, which happened to be in ophthalmology (eye surgery). I was in love with the delicate surgeries and restoring sight!
I then moved to NYC after medical school for an internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer centre; it was there that I decided I wanted to be an ocular oncologist. Ocular oncology is a very specialised field and there are around 300 practicing ocular oncologists in the world – I specialise in tumours in and around the eye in adults and children.
I love treating my adult patients, including my patients with choroidal melanoma, but I have a passion for helping children with retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina (a thin structure in the back of your eye responsible for much of your vision) that occurs in children generally around 1-2 years of age and almost always less than 5 years of age. It can lead to loss of eyesight due to treatment or sometimes because we need to remove the eye (a surgery called enucleation) but even more so it can be deadly. The stakes and stress are high but it is amazing to cure a child of cancer.
Saying no is just as important as saying yes, especially when it isn’t no out of fear, but out of respect for your other priorities.
How her blog came into being…
It was years in the making – blame that full, busy, crazy life and an ophtho residency! The spark came in medical school where it was clear that many young female doctors struggled with what to wear and how to present themselves as smart and fashionable and professional all at once. This spark grew into a flame during my residency as more and more doctors asked me how to look amazing in and out of their white coat.
I just couldn’t shake the feeling that our white coats (and really our profession), shouldn’t make female doctors feel they must cover their personal style. The website is meant to inspire doctors to dress to impress and be every bit as strong and confident with how they dress as they are with their practice. I hope some parts of the site are functional – that it will help women build a solid wardrobe of closet essentials, plan for interviews and after-hours events.
Just like every doctor has a different specialty, they will also approach style differently. If the blog empowers them not to feel hindered by society or career constructs then I have made a small difference! No one style is right – you need to feel confident and comfortable in your clothes and put the best foot forward. There are some hard rules – like not too low cut or short for work – but in general style should be authentically your own.
What an average week looks like…
The life of an academic physician involves a lot of balancing – clinical care, surgery, education (teaching residents and fellows how to care for patients and operate) and research.
I spend one day a week doing research. I am currently working on developing a surrogate biopsy for retinoblastoma using a fluid in a different part of the eye, called the aqueous, because you cannot directly biopsy retinoblastoma. Access to genetic information hidden in the tumour is critically important so I am working on finding a solution for these children.
Two days a week I take care of adult and paediatric patients with ocular tumours – this is sometimes in the clinic and sometimes in the OR at the University of Southern California and CHLA children’s hospital.
I also serve as the Associate Programme Director for the Ophthalmology Residency at the University of Southern California so two days a week, I teach residents and fellows in clinical and surgical ophthalmology and help to take care of our county patient population.
There are some hard rules – like not too low-cut or short for work – but in general style should be authentically your own.
How she turned a negative experience into an opportunity…
I was told not to wear pink to my Harvard Medical School interview so that I would be treated seriously – as if pink means I don’t have a bright mind and stellar surgical hands and a passion for treating my patients! And experiences like that aren’t just mine. In speaking to other powerhouse female physicians, I realised that they’ve all been told similar things and feel conscripted to a certain style that doesn’t suit them in order to be taken seriously. I hear all the time, from other women that they were told they’re ‘too pretty to be a doctor’ or ‘too fashionable to study medicine’ or that ‘doctors don’t look like this’. It shocks me that in 2017 this still happens.
Her ever-evolving style…
I like to think my style is classic with a touch of modern femininity. I like well-structured pieces and I am quite short (I round up to 5’3”), which exacerbates me looking more like a med student than a surgeon – so I wear heels a lot and well-cut sheath dresses (I live in LA so I can wear dresses year-round easily).
I wasn’t as daring in medical school though. I would wear black pants, flats and a black blouse every first day of a new rotation so I could make sure that it was safe to show more personality in my style (like gasp, wear a pink blouse) without being judged. I love The Fold of course and designers like Roland Mouret. In more casual settings, I steer towards jeans and flats with flowy silk tops or more casual dresses.
Think of confidence as a muscle that needs to be flexed, strengthened and honed over time. Your confidence will only continue to grow when you put yourself out there again and again.
The key to expressing your style in a corporate environment? Start small…
If you come in looking like you’ve had a makeover, people will surely notice; make a big fuss and you’re bound to feel uncomfortable. Finding a style guru in your office can be a huge plus. If you really admire someone’s style, ask them where they shop or how to add in a few new pieces.
For example, a colleague of mine wanted to revamp her shoe wardrobe but was nervous to make a big splurge on heels she thought she would never wear. Instead I gave her some of mine that suited her well. She learned she loved them, they inspired her slowly to up the rest of her dressing game, and now she can confidently buy a great pair of shoes because she knows what she likes, and what she can wear to work.
How to cultivate a confident mindset…
Honestly, it can be hard to put yourself out there in any realm – personally, professionally, even with fashion. I was truly, waiting for people to tell me that the blog wasn’t ‘serious’ or ‘befitting of a young surgeon’ when I started but I have had nothing but great feedback. Confidence is a muscle that needs to be flexed and strengthened and honed over time and it really will only happen when you put yourself out there again and again.
A mentor should be someone who inspires you, motivates you, pushes you and guides you.
The importance of self-care…
Burn out is such a real topic and high stress, high stakes careers can really compound that. I try to focus on fitness a few times a week because I can’t help other people be healthy or be capable to operate on eyes unless I stay physically fit. Also, I’ll admit I don’t always do it, but I try to leave my phone in the locker for that hour and take a real break from texts and emails – there are always a million emails in my inbox but they will always be there when I’m done. Even if I’m busy, I’ll do a quick work out at home even if I only have 15 minutes. It always makes a difference.
How she juggles it all…
Be organised, have a plan (for your day, your week, your month) but be willing to roll with the punches because they’re unavoidable and you’re organised and capable enough to handle them. I also really try to not look at my emails until I am at work – that allows me to have a calm head on my shoulders when I walk into the hospital instead of going straight into multi-tasking mode.
Overcoming the fear of failure…
The person I love most who speaks on this topic is Brené Brown who has a powerful TedTalk on the power of vulnerability, which every woman should listen to, probably multiple times. She helps normalise the fear of being vulnerable. Everyone has had setbacks. In many ways, the blog has pushed me to be less afraid or at least more open to having a discussion about it and that has poured into my professional life too. I also always tell the young doctors I train that there will be stumbles along the way – even the greatest doctors have stumbled – but you can’t hide it. You need to find a forum – or even a colleague you trust – so that you can discuss it and be open about preventing the stumble in the future. Otherwise, it just creates a terrible cycle of shame which is no service to anyone.
On networking & nurturing relationships…
Relationships take as much work to thrive as a career does. Nurturing my personal relationships is a big priority for me and I try to separate it from work even if it is as simple as putting the phone away during dinner (unless I am on call and can’t) or trying to always plan a little date or time together. I think often people forget about their friendships as well and they are important. I have some serious girl bosses in my life who never let me down and always push me to do my best.
When it comes to networking, learn people’s names. It’s a small thing but will make someone feel like you care and are interested in them the next time you meet.
Say ‘yes’ to new opportunities…
It allows you to flex your confidence muscle so that it grows strong and learns to trust its own reflexes instead of needing you to work it out all the time. It can be as simple as joining a new group, taking on a leadership role at work, doing your first podium talk or submitting an academic paper for publication. Each takes bravery and the willingness to be vulnerable and this allows confidence to grow.
Speaking was always something that came easily to me but I had to learn how to communicate in writing to thrive in academia. I still worry a little about submitting a paper but anytime I receive reviews that I don’t love, I try to remind myself that it’s an opportunity for growth. Let’s be real though – sometimes you need to repeat that multiple times!
It’s just as important to learn when to say ‘no’ so that you have time for what you love, for your relationships, for self-care and balance and to stay sane. Saying ‘no’ is important, especially when it isn’t out of fear but comes from respect for your other priorities.
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