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  • Calling out the sexist and misogynist culture within healthcare: a blog by Dr Chelcie Jewitt, co-founder of the Surviving in Scrubs campaign

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    • Health and care staff, Patient safety leads

    Summary

    The Surviving in Scrubs campaign, created by Dr Becky Cox and Dr Chelcie Jewitt, gives a voice to women in healthcare to raise awareness and end sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault in healthcare. In this blog for the hub, co-founder Dr Chelcie Jewitt tells us more about the campaign.

    Content

    91% of female doctors have experienced sexism at work, according to a survey published by the BMA in August 2021. 56% of female respondents have experienced unwanted verbal conduct and 31% have experienced unwanted physical conduct.[1] These numbers prove that there is a culture of sexism and misogyny within healthcare.

    To clarify those terms, sexism is defined as prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination based upon an individual’s sex, whereas misogyny has a more sinister edge, defined as a dislike of, contempt for or ingrained prejudice against women.[2] It is important to highlight the distinction here as the perpetrators of sexist attitudes and behaviours often do not believe that they hate women – after all they have wives, mothers, daughters or sisters. However, whether or not the intention behind treating women differently to men is one coming from a place of kindness or contempt does not matter. Treating women differently to men disadvantages everyone as we all end up consigned to limited gender roles.

    So what does this look like within healthcare?

    “I am in a management role and lead a large team. I have had several experiences of men within my team who are much more junior than me being invited to represent our discipline in senior meetings or on interview panels instead of me… despite them not being qualified enough to take on those tasks.” Testimony from Surviving In Scrubs campaign website.

    “When I was an FY1 working in orthopaedics my supervisor told me that I should go into primary care because as a female that was the best career choice for me. It would make life easier to have children and I would be able work part time to look after them. We had previously never discussed my career options/aspirations or whether I wanted/could have children.”  Testimony from Surviving In Scrubs campaign website.

    These incidences of undermining the authority and expertise of female healthcare workers, favouring less qualified men and making assumptions about a woman’s perceived desire for a ’traditional‘ family life over career aspirations are commonplace in healthcare. They are by no means the only examples of how women are treated as less valuable employees within the healthcare system.

    “As a house-officer I was groped whilst assisting a mastectomy. The consultant anaesthetist slid his hand under the drapes and groped me between my legs. I was so shocked I froze."  Testimony from Surviving In Scrubs campaign. website

    “A patient threatened to rape me. My (male) manager laughed and said ’well what do we expect, bringing a beautiful woman on the ward?’”  Testimony from Surviving In Scrubs campaign website.

    Sexual harassment and sexual assault occur within healthcare. A paper published in 2021 authored by Simon Fleming and Becky Fisher has shone a light on the issue within surgical training.[3] Again more work needs to be done on defining the prevalence of these criminal behaviours throughout the whole of the healthcare workforce.

    This is where the Surviving in Scrubs campaign comes in. This campaign was set up by myself and Dr Becky Cox earlier this year. We are currently collecting anonymous testimonies from ANY healthcare professional who has experienced sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assault or even rape whilst in work. This can be at the hands of colleagues or patients. So far, we have over 120 testimonies and we have more coming in every day.

    We are collecting this data to show the human cost of these cultural problems. But also, to demonstrate the strength and power that each individual voice and testimony can have in bringing about change.

    The collective narrative that we have already established from a variety of healthcare backgrounds – doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, clinical psychologists, administrative staff, paramedics, etc – has already led to key stakeholders taking notice. We have had meetings with the GMC, NHS England, representatives from royal colleges, the BMA and other unions and governing bodies. There is buy in, and a drive to bring about change.

    But we need to keep pushing! We need more stories and voices so that we are able to represent survivors of this terrible culture within healthcare. Every voice that speaks up makes a difference. If you’ve experienced issues like these, we need your voice too!

    Email Surviving in Scrubs with your story or use one of the following social media platforms:

    Website: www.survivinginscrubs.co.uk

    Twitter: @scrubsurvivors @ByChelcie

    Instagram: @scrubsurvivors

    References

    1. BMA. Sexism in medicine. British Medical Association, 2021

    2. Wolf N, Bindel J, Power N, et al. Sexism and misogyny: what's the difference? The Guardian, 2012.

    3. Fleming S, Fisher RA. Sexual assualt in surgery: a painful truth. The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 2021; 103 (6): 272-322.

    About the Author

    Dr Chelcie Jewitt is Co-founder of the Surviving in Scrubs campaign and a Specialist Registrar in Emergency Medicine.

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