Skip to Main Content

The Emperor Wears No Scrubs

June 06, 2024
by Cecelia Smith

A message from Department of Surgery Chair, Dr. Nita Ahuja

In the timeless fable of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," reality dawns on a village when a child, naive to the pomp and circumstance, speaks out, exposing the naked truth: their revered leader is, quite literally, unclothed. It's a parable that resonates deeply, highlighting how power can veil reality and how fear of authority can silence dissenting voices.

And perhaps, as a group of students and residents had me consider most recently, it serves as an allegorical framework to think about challenges to the "village" that is academic education; about our blind spots as teachers and as students, and what might happen if the unspoken truths we all know, but daren't discuss, became part of the regular discourse.

I first started thinking about this at AAMC’s CFAS-GRA-ORR Spring Meeting — where faculty leaders from the Council of Faculty & Academic Societies (of which I am Chair), and our Group on Resident Affairs were the proverbial “emperors” — senior academic physicians, invited to listen, and learn, from the session’s primary participants: students and residents from across the country. So, we listened to Q&As, panel discussions, and plenary talks …

What transpired in those moments of attentive silence wasn't always easy to digest, but undeniably crucial. As faculty and leaders, we were confronted with unfiltered truths about the lived reality of academic medical education, delivered from those just beginning their training years. It was a stark reminder of the importance of creating a culture where candor is not only welcomed but actively encouraged.

Upholding our mission of excellence in education means fostering an environment where individuals feel empowered to — respectfully — call out inequities, injustices, and inefficiencies in our teaching, learning, and administrative frameworks. And this imperative extends beyond our trainees to encompass our colleagues—the very peers we stand beside in our professional endeavors.

As we go about our day-to-day in the department — whatever our job title — let us heed the lessons of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes." Let us commit to cultivating a culture where speaking truth to power isn't just an act of bravery but a fundamental tenet of our shared ethos to champion curiosity, truth, and integrity above all else.

Submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on June 06, 2024