A campaign has drawn attention to the sexism, harassment and misogynistic comments many female healthcare workers have had to endure.
The Surviving in Scrubs campaign has been launched by two doctors, GP Dr Becky Cox and emergency medicine trainee Dr Chelcie Jewitt, who want to raise awareness of the “culture of misogyny” that endures in many areas of the healthcare profession.
The website says: “Sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are commonplace in the healthcare workforce. Too many of us have witnessed or been subject to it… the female med student asked to stay late lone working with a senior male doctor, being looked over for opportunities at work, unwelcome touching at conferences, comments on your looks… the list goes on.”
Stories shared via the website include clinicians who received unwanted sexual remarks, a lack of support after reporting they had been sexually harassed by a patient, and comments about their sexuality or having a family.
Harassment of frontline workers
One person said: “Having just reviewed a sick patient… I popped back up to discuss with the consultant on call. He had the rest of the team – more junior doctors around the desk beside him. He told me to sit down next to him and I started to discuss the case. He called me ‘missy’, put his hand on my thigh and slid it up with his thumb on the inside. This would not have happened to a man.”
Another said: “In our hospital it is common knowledge that one of the male matrons makes sexual advances to female nurses more junior to him. Many staff avoid leaving dos and Christmas parties because he is so much worse when he has had a drink. If a nurse rejects his sexual advances then he targets her for months (or until she leaves); he criticises all of her work, spreads false information about her, publicly belittles her, denies her training opportunities, blocks any promotion prospects.”
The campaign pointed towards a 2021 survey from the British Medical Association (BMA) which found 91% of women doctors had experienced sexism in the previous two years and 47% felt they had been treated less favourably due to their gender. Fifty-six per cent said that they had received unwanted verbal comments relating to their gender and 31% said that they had experienced unwanted physical conduct.
Dr Latifa Patel, chair of the BMA representative body, said: “When we reported last year that 91% of women doctors in the UK have experienced sexism at work, we said that it would take a concerted effort over a long time to eradicate.
“We are grateful to Dr Jewitt for bringing us her experiences and her initial results which fed into that work on sexism in medicine. We are grateful now to see the Surviving in Scrubs campaign bring that work forward and use the evidence we have gathered to press for more action, and for more people to share their stories. It is vital these terrible experiences are not left to languish in the dark where nothing will be done about them.
“We look forward to continuing collaboration with Dr Jewitt and Dr Cox in tackling gender discrimination issues and make medicine a better place to work.”
Commenting on the campaign, professor Colin Melville, medical director and director for education and standards at the General Medical Council said: “Hearing the accounts from survivors who were sexually assaulted in a medical environment is harrowing and appalling and we absolutely condemn any such behaviour. There can be no place for misogyny, sexism or any form of sexual harassment in the medical profession.
“That’s why the current consultation on our core guidance for doctors, Good medical practice, sets out a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and includes for the first time two explicit duties for doctors; that any form of abuse or discrimination is unacceptable, and a requirement to act and support others if they witness or learn of harassment, bullying or discrimination.”