DR MAX PEMBERTON: Misogyny and the day my friend was groped by a fellow surgeon
- There is a toxic culture of sexism and sexual violence in our healthcare system
- READ MORE: Dr Max Pemberton: Why the grumpy man you love might need help
Doctors are only human. We get things wrong and behave badly at times. But there appears to be something truly rotten at the core of some parts of medicine — a toxic culture of sexism and sexual violence in our healthcare system that persists and goes unchallenged.
Now, a campaign group of concerned doctors called Surviving In Scrubs have produced a report, published last week, detailing what has been termed an ’embedded and normalised culture of misogyny’ experienced by female doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.
A shocking 91 per cent of women doctors have experienced sexism, with 31 per cent having been victims of unwanted physical conduct, while 60 per cent of nurses have experienced sexual harassment at work.
What’s striking, however, is how much of the problem revealed by the report lies in surgery. Nearly half of all the perpetrators of the sexist incidents reported to Surviving In Scrubs are surgeons.
I’m afraid I wasn’t surprised.
A campaign group of concerned doctors called Surviving In Scrubs have produced a report, published last week, detailing what has been termed an ’embedded and normalised culture of misogyny’ experienced by female doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff (stock image)
When I worked in surgery as a junior, I witnessed this first-hand. Surgeons, for example, would joke about doing a ‘tube’ — a totally unnecessary breast examination — when young women came in.
Frequently, women in theatre, merely trying to do their jobs, were groped or touched in full view of everyone. Sexist jokes and sexualised comments were de rigueur.
Those of us who challenged this were side-lined and ostracised; we weren’t ‘one of the lads’ and were mocked, ignored or even denied training opportunities. After six months in this environment, I decided surgery wasn’t for me.
But one of my closest friends, who I went to medical school with, decided to stick it out in surgery. Her experience was chilling. She witnessed — and was a victim of — staggering displays of misogyny and sexual violence. One evening, after operating, the surgical team went to the pub for a drink. As she walked back to the group from the bar, her boss reached over and grabbed her breast.
As she tried to pull away, he twisted his grip and wouldn’t let go. She cried at him to let go, but he twisted it further. She was holding a glass of wine and tried to knock his hand away, but his grip was too strong
DR MAX PEMBERTON
Alarmingly, one in eight 17 to 19-year-olds now suffer from an eating disorder.
The spike in cases is down to the combined effects of lockdown and toxic social media.
The sooner youngsters get treatment, the better the outcomes — we owe it to them to ensure services have the resources they need.
She instinctively used her other hand to push him away and, as she did, she threw the wine at him. It went on his shirt. He froze for a second, then pushed her face down onto the table, got on top of her and banged her head repeatedly on the table. Her colleagues had to pull him off her.
She was off work for two weeks. The head of the department spoke to her and said, of course, he would support her if she wanted to make a complaint. But, he added in quieter tones, she should think about her future career.
She was due to be a consultant herself soon, he reminded her, and surgery is a small world. Inexplicably, given his behaviour that night, the surgeon who had assaulted her was a popular man. Everyone would know she had ended his career. People wouldn’t want to work with her knowing she was the kind of person to make complaints.
Instead, she was told to attend a meeting with her assailant, where he mumbled an apology and looked contrite. He continued to work until his retirement a few years ago.
DR MAX PEMBERTON: Doctors are only human. We get things wrong and behave badly at times. But there appears to be something truly rotten at the core of some parts of medicine — a toxic culture of sexism and sexual violence in our healthcare system that persists and goes unchallenged
But it’s not just overt, outrageous (and criminal) things like this that she had to endure. During her annual appraisal just before she became a consultant, the three men on the panel in front of her discussed how they thought it was irresponsible for her to be a surgeon when she had four children. ‘You should be at home being a mother,’ one of them said.
My friend is tough. Despite all this, she did complete her training. She is now very successful and loves her career.
Yet why should she be forced to endure such appalling behaviour from colleagues?
Who would have blamed her for walking away from her career? But what a tragedy that would have been for the countless patients this extraordinary surgeon will help over the years.
The interesting question is why this culture exists.
I think part of the problem lies in the very nature of being a surgeon. What they have to do often requires an ability to compartmentalise things.
They often appear callous and aloof, and these are attributes that might be useful when faced with an unconscious body on an operating table that needs to be cut open, but not so good when you have to interact with other people.
But this feels like searching for an excuse, when nothing can excuse the kind of behaviour my friend was subjected to.
A bigger part of the problem is that surgeons are held in high regard and often treated like gods in hospitals.
This means bad behaviour can go unchallenged. It’s often the consequence of a public-school lad culture being allowed to go unchecked. It exists because it’s allowed to exist.
Senior surgeons and managers simply can’t allow this kind of culture to fester any longer.
For the sake of future doctors and their patients, misogyny should have absolutely no place in medicine.
I’m horrified it even needs to be said.
Bobby’s brave dance for mum
Bobby Brazier’s dance tribute this weekend to his mum Jade Goody had the Strictly judges in tears.
You can only imagine how her death, when he was just five, must have affected him.
When I worked in child psychiatry, part of my job involved supporting families who had been bereaved. Of course, it is hugely traumatic. Small children can sense the devastation of those around them, and this is often what affects them the most, even if death remains a strange, abstract concept. Children do tend to adapt, though. While for adults the process of grief is often about how to deal with the sense of loss, I have found younger people often look for ways to hold on to the person. For many, there is a fear around forgetting them.
It’s often a good idea to encourage bereaved children to make a memory box containing things that remind them of the person who has died.
Keeping their memory alive is crucial for children.
Bobby Brazier’s dance tribute this weekend to his mum Jade Goody had the Strictly judges in tears
Yesterday, we learned of the thwarted deportation of a foreign criminal, when a handful of passengers on a plane at Gatwick protested against it. It comes after the case of rapist Yaqub Ahmed, whose deportation was similarly halted in 2018, but who was finally kicked out of the country in recent months.
Ahmed’s victim spoke about the years of torment she suffered as a result. ‘You thought you were being such heroes. But you just kept an evil predator here to haunt me for years,’ she said, addressing the passengers who refused to let the plane take off.
I work a lot with victims of sexual violence, and I’m repeatedly horrified by the lenient sentences perpetrators get and how those from overseas use human rights to avoid deportation. The average person wants us to protect the victim, not the criminal.
Dr Max Prescribes: A trial walking app
For just £2.99 a month, the AllTrails app delivers thousands of hiking and walking routes direct to your phone – perfect for finding family walks over the festive period and for exploring the outdoors when the weather gets warmer.
For just £2.99 a month, the AllTrails app delivers thousands of hiking and walking routes direct to your phone – perfect for finding family walks over the festive period and for exploring the outdoors when the weather gets warmer
Source: Read Full Article