Sexism in the Medical Environment

Sexism in the Medical Environment

A while ago, I wrote about my beef with the levels of competitiveness that exist at Medical School. This is a similar type of blog post, and is about an issue that really shouldn’t have to exist. In fact, let’s forget the medical environment for a second – sexism shouldn’t exist anywhere.

So far, there have been many hurdles that I have faced at medical school. From an admission to a psychiatric inpatients unit to feeling worked up about presenting a history to my consultant, I have found some aspects of medical school extremely difficult. I do, however, have one less hurdle compared to approximately half of my other colleagues. That hurdle? I don’t have to put up with sexism as a male.

Even though I’ve only been at Medical School for two years now, I’ve already seen examples of countless sexism towards our female colleagues. It is not something that they should have to put up with and as a male, I’m very lucky that I don’t have to put up with it. Of course, sexism does exist against males too (with mental health issues perhaps being a good example), but I can’t think of any examples where I’ve directly seen sexism directed towards males in medicine.

Here are some examples of what I’ve seen.

Inappropriate touching

I was doing a shift in A&E not too long ago. From a distance, I saw that the paramedics had arrived with a patient and were presenting a patient to the medical team. There was a female doctor listening to the handover.

As the paramedics left, someone stepped behind this female doctor. He smacked her backside, sniggered, and walked away. The female doctor went very red, looked awkward as well as annoyed and said shyly, “Erm…please don’t do that.”

Who was this person? Was he a patient, a member of the public, a family member? Nope. He was a member of staff of the hospital itself. (Note – in the interests of maintaining confidence in the profession, I would just like to add that this member of staff was not a doctor).

I was standing at a distance and was with another patient who needed our attention but I couldn’t help but feel disgusted. This man had gone to his other colleagues who had witnessed what happened, and all of them laughed with him. It seemed very degrading to say the least.

I told my personal tutor about the incident later, who said he would make sure it got raised appropriately.

In dissection

In anatomy teaching, we had sessions of human dissection. We were one day examining the anatomy of the thorax and our task was to cut the ribs.

For anyone who has done dissection, they will know just how strong bones are and how difficult it is to cut them. You have to use a special piece of equipment to cut ribs and even then, it requires a lot of strength.

We were just about to make a start on cutting the ribs when one of the demonstrators came up to us to check on our progress. We explained what we were about to do and he went, “Good. Get one of the boys to cut the ribs – you need strength to do so.”

It took a minute for what he had just said to us to sink in. All of the group looked at each other awkwardly. We were too scared to say anything – after all, this was one of our first dissection sessions and this man was meant to be our senior. It seemed amazing that he seemed to think – despite clearly being clever – that the females in our group couldn’t handle the task based simply on their gender. My regret is not speaking up in that situation. I was scared, but that’s no excuse.

Eventually, I tried to cut the ribs but failed. Then a female member of the group tried and guess what? She managed with ease.

With patients

For people who follow this blog, they’ll know how much I try to maintain a ‘pro-patient’ attitude. This stems from being a patient myself. An attitude that I can’t stand, however, is blatant discrimination. Racism, for example, is something that I have experienced when patients ask about my origin.

Its not just racism either. Sexism also exists, and is also completely unacceptable. I remember when one of my colleagues went to go and take a history, for example. She returned feeling rather down, and  so I asked her if she was OK. It turned out that the patient didn’t want to be seen by a woman, and thought that my colleague should have been a nurse rather than a doctor. This was wrong on so many levels – it also highlights how, as society, we have assigned so many labels to what ‘male’ jobs are and what ‘female’ jobs are.

I do wonder if male nurses also encounter the same problem of sexism.

Final thoughts

I decided to write this blog post after stumbling upon a Buzzfeed article in which a politician blamed female doctors for the NHS Crisis. It was, of course, a ridiculous assertion based on deflecting attention to real issues such as underfunding. The NHS staff – regardless of their gender – are the backbone of the health service. Alienating a good number of them is – there is no other way to say it – stupidity at its finest.


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