First Impressions


I live in Arizona by choice and feel a certain sense of pride when the car temperature displays 122 degrees on some August days. Some days you get sunburned just walking to your car in the parking lot, so skin cancer checks are something people schedule fairly regularly.

Because of these rational fears of skin cancer, it is also very hard to get in to see a dermatologist. One clinic told me it would be six months. In six months, I could be dead of skin cancer, I thought, becoming overly dramatic and googling “skin cancer prognosis if treatment is delayed.”

Finally, I found a provider who could get me in at the end of the month. The appointment was at 10 a.m. The doctor was a 50-something-year-old woman with a perfectly wrinkle-free face. (Botox is a major perk of this field, and I often secretly wish my husband was a dermatologist rather than a family doctor for this very self-serving reason.)

The doctor wore designer black patent leather heels and a blue-and-black-striped dress. Her hair was up in an elegant twist and a tortoise shell headband was pushed back on her head. I immediately liked her style and decided she was competent. It’s funny how quickly these judgments are made and what factors shape these beliefs. For me, it’s clothing – mostly shoes.

She leaned over as she began examining my skin. With her head down, scanning my arms, I realized it wasn’t a headband on her head – it was a pair of sunglasses. Why was she wearing sunglasses inside in a patient room at 10 a.m.? This started to bug me. It seemed so flippant. So non serious. We were well into the day. And even if she had a late arrival this morning, she should get rid of these kinds of items in the same way you would drop off your purse and keys and coffee before coming into a patient room.

I needed to know if she was aware of this; if this was intentional. But how? It suddenly came to me. I told her I liked her earrings, thinking it would draw attention to her head. It worked. She put her hand to her ear and said, “Oh, thanks! My husband bought these for our anniversary.” Her hand circled her ear and touched the sunglasses. Oh, good, I thought, now she will realize the error in her ways and take them off. But no! To my horror, she took the glasses off her head and put them right back on top.

She patted my knee and told me I was good until next year. You can’t be trusted, you sunglasses-on-top-of-your-head doctor. I booked another skin check appointment for next week with a different specialist.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.