During my first day working as a foundation year 1 in orthopaedics, the consultant running the trauma meeting informed me how I wouldn’t ‘want to come help out in theatre’ as there was no point since I was ‘destined to have kids and become a GP’.
A couple of years later, working in emergency care, a patient refused to let me review him as I was ‘just a woman’ and he needed ‘a real doctor’.
These are some of the more obvious examples of discrimination that I have experienced working in the NHS based on my gender.
There are countless many others that are more insidious and that occur so frequently that it has made me question my career choice several times: being spoken over, having my opinions and management plans questioned or worse — dismissed, being expected to perform more of the administrative jobs during ward rounds, not getting encouraged to undertake research or presentations… the list goes on…
But I know I am not the only one.
After a recent incident where I was left feeling humiliated, I sought solace in the company of several of my female doctor friends. Each one of them could recall several similar incidents which they had experienced, despite being at different career stages, working in different specialties and in different locations. Instead of feeling comforted, I was galvanized.
I had to find proof of this issue. So I took to the internet and although I could find articles about gender discrimination, about gender pay gaps and sexual harassment, I couldn’t find what I was specifically looking for – proof that those insidious behaviours make women feel ‘less than’ and in turn negatively affect their career choices and even progression.
Then I stumbled across the fantastic work of Laura Bates: the Everyday Sexism Project (1). This project highlights the negative effect that seemingly harmless microaggressions can have of individuals. Small incidents at work such as being spoken over in a meeting, may not seem detrimental on their own, but repeated behaviours such as this can grind down confidence, making people feel excluded from the wider workforce and negatively affect morale.
These attitudes are often based on gender stereotypes and they negatively harm the whole workforce; leading people to make constrained choices based on what they think society expects of them based on their gender, rather than what they want to do or what their positive attributes may be.
This year’s International Women’s Day is themed ‘Choose To Challenge’, which has presented the perfect opportunity for us to prove whether there is a cultural issue within the medical workforce (2).
Sexism is often unintentional, driven by unconscious bias and normalized attitudes which have long been seen as acceptable – but I would argue that this does not make those attitudes right.
The BMA has supported my work and we have worked together to develop a survey to investigate gender issues in the medical profession.
By investigating gender issues in the medical profession, the BMA aims to work to improve workplace culture for all doctors within the NHS, where they can work in fair culture which gives equal access to opportunities, free from prejudice and discrimination.
Chelcie Jewitt is an emergency medicine specialty trainee 1
The everyday sexism in medicine survey is open until 31 March
(1) Bates L. Everyday Sexism. Simon and Schuster; 2014. p384