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She’s worn both a hospital gown and a white coat. Now she wants to change how doctors perceive their patients

Shekinah Elmore's medical school classmates began to draw imaginary lines between themselves, the “healthy,” and their future patients, the “sick.” She was proof that those categories aren’t so clear cut.

BOSTON — Shekinah Elmore was not yet a physician when she gave her own second opinion. After a year of cancer treatment — including lung surgery, chemotherapy, and a double mastectomy — she was hell-bent on starting medical school. Her doctors tried to dissuade her, recommending that she take more time to recover from her third stint with cancer. But two weeks after finishing the therapies that left her bald and unable to walk without getting winded, Elmore took an oath to do no harm.

“I’m a very stubborn person,” she said a few weeks ago, laughing at the gall of her younger self.

Eight years after starting medical school, Elmore wears her dark hair in long braids with golden ends. But against the brick walls of a quiet coffee shop, her earrings — orange hoops the size of peach slices — stand out the most.

As a student, Elmore also paired her outfits with unapologetically loud earrings. Her classmates took her shaved head to be another style choice, and not the effect of toxic chemotherapy.

Elmore was perceived as “among the healthy,” and recalls that wrong assumption with both fondness and frustration. It was nice blending in at school, she said, surrounded by new people who didn’t constantly ask, “How do you feel?”

But, at the same time, Elmore wanted her peers to recognize that not every person who looks well is well. Her classmates began to draw imaginary lines between themselves, the “healthy,” and their future patients, the “sick.” Elmore herself was proof that those categories aren’t so clear cut. Later, she’d realize how much their use hurts

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