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Nine in 10 female doctors experience work sexism, reveals ‘concerning’ BMA report

Nine in 10 female doctors experience work sexism, reveals ‘concerning’ BMA report
By Caitlin Tilley
26 August 2021

More than nine in 10 (91%) female doctors have experienced sexism at work, with 42% feeling unable to report it, a study by the BMA has found.

Women told the BMA they suffer ‘patronising comments, are being judged on their appearance, can be overlooked in their career progression or are ignored by patients and other doctors in favour of their male colleagues’ as part of the report, published today.

The online survey, which had 2,458 respondents, asked doctors if they had experienced or witnessed sexist behaviour in the past year.

A total of 84% of all respondents reported there was an ‘issue of sexism’ in the medical profession.

Of those who took part in the survey, 82% were female and 16% were male.

The experiences of Dr Chelcie Jewitt, a trainee in emergency medicine who suffered sexism at work, was a ‘catalyst’ for the report.

She said: ‘I felt humiliated and belittled by the way I was spoken to and even though I knew I was tired after a gruelling set of night shifts, I couldn’t shake the feeling of upset and anger.’

She added: ‘Two weeks after a consultant completely ignored my contributions in favour of a male doctor while I was handing over after a busy shift, I knew I couldn’t just let it lie.’

Dr Jewitt reported the incident and began speaking to other colleagues about their experiences. 

Within a few days she had over 90 responses with shockingly similar stories of discrimination. 

After finding that there was no data on this issue, Dr Jewitt brought her evidence to the BMA, and worked with them to create a detailed survey to examine the extent of sexism in healthcare workplaces.

The Sexism in Medicine report found:

  • 42% of all respondents who witnessed or experienced an issue relating to sexism felt they couldn’t report it.
  • 28% of men respondents said they have/had more opportunities during training because of their gender, compared to 1% of women respondents.
  • More than six in 10 (61%) female respondents felt they were discouraged to work in a particular specialty due to their gender, with 39% going on to choose not to work in that speciality.
  • Seven in 10 (70%) women respondents felt their clinical ability had been doubted or undervalued because of their gender, compared to 4% of male respondents.
  • Over half (54%) of all respondents thought that sexism acts as a barrier to career progression.
  • 31% of women and 23% of men respondents experienced unwanted physical conduct in their workplace.
  • 56% of women and 28% of men respondents received unwanted verbal conduct related to their gender.

One female GP respondent said: ‘I was asked at an interview if I was planning on having children. I’ve had male patients refusing to see me as want to see a proper (i.e. male) doctor. Advised I was not pretty enough to cause a distraction in meetings so they could treat me like a bloke. I could go on…’

Acting chair of the BMA’s representative body Dr Latifa Patel said the report makes for ‘shocking reading’ and that ‘there is no place for sexism in society’.

The BMA will now develop recommendations to address the ‘unacceptable experiences’, which will be shared with ‘appropriate partners and stakeholders who will be encouraged to report back on progress made’, Dr Patel said.

She added: ‘It is appalling that we are seeing these statistics, hearing these stories and talking about these inequalities in 2021,’ she said.

‘Everyone at the BMA is empowered to call out sexism when they see it, whether that’s when they hear inappropriate language, if they see others reinforcing stereotypes or if they witness prejudice,’ she added.

BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma and BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Sarah Hallett said the survey’s results are ‘deeply concerning’. 

They said: ‘We need to create better, more inclusive working cultures and ensure a future where there is no sexism in medicine and we will work closely with each other’s committees to achieve this.

‘Until then, we encourage BMA members who have been victims of sexist behaviours and unwanted verbal or physical contact to contact us for advice and support. We also offer a free and confidential BMA Wellbeing service, open to all doctors and medical students regardless of BMA membership,’ Dr Sharma and Dr Hallett added.

The BMA’s GP Committee was instructed in May 2021 to present an annual report on inappropriate conduct complaints received, as part of its bid to root out institutional sexism.

And a BMA sexism report carried out in 2019 by Daphne Romney QC concluded that the doctors’ union has an ‘old boys’ club network’ culture that treats ‘women as of less importance and ability’.

The BMA launched the investigation into sexist behaviour in April 2019 after two GP Committee members raised concerns about treatment of women within the organisation.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.

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