The female doctors have launched an online campaign which they say exposes shocking gender discrimination, harassment and sexual assault in healthcare.
Survive in scrubs is an issue for all healthcare workers, say campaign founders Becky Cox and Chelcie Jewitt, who encourage women to share stories of harassment and abuse to “push for change and reach people at power”.
The campaign called on the General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors, to explicitly speak out against sexist and misogynistic behavior towards their female colleagues and “treat them with respect”.
“Unfortunately, a lot of behavior is normalized. A lot of people who work in healthcare don’t realize they’re a problem,” Jewitt said.
When asked if she had experienced workplace harassment and abuse, she replied, “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t, to be honest with you.”
Now she is using the experiences to fuel the campaign, but it has already caused her to question her choice of career in emergency medicine.
“There is no ‘I’ in the team, but equally, one person who is unwell impacts a team and healthcare is about teamwork,” said Jewitt.
More than 40 stories were shared on the campaign website, ranging from sexual harassment by patients to inappropriate remarks and sexual advances from supervisors.
A story goes that a female doctor recently learned of a competition between male doctors in a hospital’s stroke ward “to see who would be the first to sleep with an entire MDT [multidisciplinary team]”. In another, a doctor recounted that when she informed her supervisor of her pregnancy, she was told he thought the same because her “breasts were much bigger than before.”
Other stories include doctors being sexually harassed by patients. “I didn’t feel safe at work,” said a doctor who, when he asked a male colleague whose role was to advise on these issues, was told: “There is nothing I can do other than eating 10 donuts every night. ”
The campaign is bolstered by evidence that shows 91% of women surveyed have experienced workplace sexism in the past two years. The findings are the result of nearly 2,500 doctors surveyed working in the NHS – the majority of whom were women – published in a 2021 report by the British Medical Association (BMA).
The report found that 84% of all respondents said there was sexism in the medical profession and 61% of women felt discouraged from working in a particular specialty because of their gender.
The report is the result of a two-year effort launched by Jewitt, then a junior doctor in the emergency department, in conjunction with the BMA. Both men and women interviewed said they believed the main driver of sexism among healthcare professionals was the result of individual opinions and behaviors, followed by structural and institutional factors.
Following the report, Latifa Patel, Acting Chairperson of the BMA Representative Body and medical doctor, said: ‘There is no place for sexism in society. If we want to eradicate it, we all have a role to play. It’s going to take a concerted effort, and it won’t be quick to fix, but the sexism has to end. »
While the BMA report stopped short of detailing the cumulative ways in which other forms of discrimination such as racism and classism overlap, the campaign wrote on Twitter: “Sexism in the healthcare workforce is intersectional. Race, disability, sexuality, ethnicity, class, gender intertwine to create a multitude of experiences. Sexism does not exist in a vacuum.
Colin Melville, GMC Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards, called the stories of assault “heartbreaking and appalling”, adding: “There can be no room for misogyny, sexism or any form sexual harassment in the medical profession”.
The current GMC Advice for Physicians consultation has set out a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, Melville said. It sets out for the first time that any form of abuse or discrimination is unacceptable, and includes an obligation for physicians to act and support others if they witness or learn of harassment.