While the job titles of doctor and tattoo model might typically not mesh well, Dr. Sarah Gray is here to prove that one can excel in both fields. As a former Inked Magazine Australia/ New Zealand cover model, Gray has gained recognition as a tattooed beauty for years on social media. However, throughout her years as a model, she's been training to become a doctor. And just last week, Gray officially graduated from medical school at the University of Adelaide. Being a heavily tattooed female doctor comes with it's own set of unique challenges and experiences, however, Gray is confident that she will continue to be judged based on her performance rather than her body art. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the Australian MD to learn about her journey throughout medical school and where she hopes to go next as one of the most tattooed doctors in the world.
When did you first develop an interest in medicine and at what time did you decide to pursue a career as a doctor?
Gray: Growing up, I was always interested in a career within the medical field as my father was a doctor and I saw him as my biggest role model. When I was a teenager things changed, I wasn’t as committed to my studies and went through a bit of a rough patch. Luckily, I was able to improve my studies for year 12 and did well enough to keep my options open in the future. After school, I worked a few years in hospitality management before studying to be a dental assistant. I really enjoyed the patient interaction side of dentistry as well as being able to help people. So, after seven years away from school, I took the university medicine entrance exam and was lucky enough to get a spot as a mature aged student. One thing I can definitely say is that studying at an older age was a bonus, as having life experience certainly helped me to develop my communication skills— which is the most important part of being a good clinician.
At the time, did you plan to be heavily tattooed and what led you to begin collecting tattoos?
Initially I started with a large scale back piece that symbolized an important time in my life and had planned on collecting just a few pieces from specific artist. I never thought I would be as heavily tattooed as I am now. Once I started, I was able to admire the artistic ability that went into creating body art. And having always been a creative person I thought, what better way to collect art than on your skin?
You’ve spoken previously about tattoo discrimination on the Gold Coast. Is that a common practice for this area and have you experienced discrimination for your tattoos in the medical world?
I don’t actually live on the Gold Coast, the discrimination I experienced there was when I was on holidays. That was by far the worst I’ve faced from anywhere around Australia. My husband and I were out for lunch and asked to leave because of their ‘no visible tattoo policy.’ This also happened at several other bars within the same day. I find it astonishing that in the world we live in today, you can still be unfairly categorized due to your appearance.
The medical world on the other hand, has been fabulous to me. I’ve worked with some of the most senior physicians and surgeons within the state and they have welcomed me with open arms through my clinical training. I have always received excellent feedback assessments from them and was told on a number of occasions that I was one of the best students they had seen in years. I’m very conscious of looking different, but ultimately I know I’m a hard worker. And if you work hard and put your mind to something, nothing will get in your way. When you’re memorable for looking different, you just have to make sure it’s for the right reasons.
I have only experienced one unfair judgment on my appearance (to my face anyway) and the doctor who was unhappy later apologized to me for jumping to conclusions.
Did anyone ever tell you that you had to choose between being a doctor and being tattooed—if so, what was that experience like?
No one has ever said that to me, that knows me. All my friends and family have given me the utmost support and encouragement through my journey so far. Uneducated keyboard warriors on social media will often ridicule me, saying that I can’t be competent as a doctor or that I look unprofessional, but that just reflects on their character, not mine. There have been numerous times where I have been told that I couldn’t be a model and a doctor. That makes me feel horrible. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t be both! I’m proud of who I am and I won’t allow anyone to get in the way of my dreams.
As a women, do you believe that you experience unique challenges as a tattooed person in the medical field?
I think that as a woman we still face many challenges within the medical field, regardless of being tattooed. The gender pay gap is still an issue as well as the flexibility of certain training programs for women that want to conceive and have a family. However, I do believe that I will face certain hurdles that others may not. Anti-discrimination rules and regulations are everywhere but you can’t change people’s opinions on body art over night. There will always be people in the medical field both as fellow clinicians and patients that won’t like the way I look. I accept that I chose to look this way so I have to accept anything that comes along with either, good or bad.
What was your process for completing medical school in Australia and what goals do you have as a recent graduate?
The undergraduate degree that I have recently completed is a six year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS). We then work in the hospital for one year as an intern doctor and decide whether to pursue surgical or medical registered officer positions for the following year. This decision then guides us on the pathway to either physician or surgical training programs of various durations. The way I describe it to people outside of Australia is that we are basically a one size fits all junior ward doctor for the first year post-graduate, then aim to tailor our training towards the specialty of our choice. My goals are to get into the orthopedic surgical training program. Currently I’m preparing for my surgical primary exam, which is a requirement to pass for any surgical training program. In Australia, you need to be a doctor with a minimum of post-graduate year four training to apply for the program, so as you can see, I’ve got a long way to go. But, each day that light at the end of the tunnel gets closer. I’ve been blessed recently to be involved in a large systematic review research study, looking at developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) in newborn babies with some of the country’s most respected orthopedic surgeons. If all goes well with that, we should have a British Medical Journal (BMJ) article publication by the end of next year.
Do you have any tattoos related to medicine or science and does your job restrict you from getting tattoos in certain places?
I have a zombie doctor wearing a stethoscope, as well as a zombie nurse. I have a love of all things horror, in case you can’t tell. I also have several anatomically correct skulls, as I find facial anatomy fascinating. Just recently, I had my knuckles done with the word ‘healing,’ which I guess you could say is medical related. The tattoo policy states that no offensive tattoos can be visible and I certainly don’t have any of those, so I guess I’m ok. I have my hands, knuckles, neck all visibly tattooed and it hasn’t been restrictive so far. That may be different if I was to work in the private sector, but I’m employed by a public hospital.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you as a tattooed woman and what reactions do you get when people learn that you’re a doctor?
There are so many misconceptions that I’m sure my fellow heavily tattooed women of the world face. The most common themes are just assuming that I am uneducated/unemployed, work within the adult industry or have gang/criminal affiliations. Depending on what context people meet me in guides what their reactions are when they find out I’m a doctor. If I’m in the hospital then I’m dressed professionally and most people just say ‘you’re the most colorful one on the team’ or something along those lines. But they don’t question it too much, as the neck wearing stethoscope is a powerful tool! It’s more when I’m out in public, dressed as my everyday self that people tend to not expect it as I’m usually in a band t-shirt, jeans or a colorful wig. I’m just a colorful girl, trying to leave a positive footprint behind and help people. I do hope that helping to advocate as a voice for tattoos and professionalism can help to change societies’ views on us in the world.
How have your patients and coworkers reacted to your ink? Do you have any memorable stories (positive or negative) relating to your tattoos in the workplace?
I can’t think of any memorable stories to be honest. Then only thing I can say is that I quite often get stuck talking to patients about their body art when the topic is raised, it’s usually the younger generation that find it pretty cool.
What else should audiences know about you, aside from being a doctor and a tattoo collector?
I wear many hats in daily life actually. I’m the PA to my talented tattooist husband, @tattoosbybumer and we are about to open our own private studio in Adelaide, South Australia called ‘The Grim Raptor.’ I was crowned Miss Inked Australia/NZ in 2017 and was on the cover of Australian Inked Magazine. I also worked as an established alternate model throughout my medical school training. I am one of 4 finalists in the upcoming Australian Sullen Angels Search, so get on board and support me when voting opens for that soon guys. I love golf, have a 9 handicap and was previously captain for our state team. I probably have the best lamb shank recipe in the world, just saying. I will not be silenced. I will continue to advocate for all of us colorful folk, regardless of the negative backlash I receive along the way. The world needs to realize that we are not bad people simply because we collect art on our skin.
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