By - Elizabeth Badalov, Edited by - Melissa-Maria Kulaprathazhe October 6, 2020
As a pre-med or medical student, you are acutely aware of how much scrutiny you are under. Scoring well on the MCAT and USMLE exams, maintaining an excellent GPA, and performing strongly on rotations are all necessary to distinguish you from a myriad of other candidates and secure the spot you earned in the medical school or residency program of your dreams. But for applicants who may not fit the archetypal White male description of a doctor, the scrutiny goes further than that.
Underlying professional biases coded with racial and gendered prejudices continue to lead Black female doctors to worry about whether they should wear their natural hair to a residency interview, or how to present themselves so that patients and staff would not mistake them for a custodial service worker. With modern day technology, “professional” stereotypes have bled beyond the way candidates present themselves in-person and into their online presences as well.
A study in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, whose authors were seven males and one female, created social media accounts to follow 235 vascular surgeons in training on various social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They would flag all content deemed ‘unprofessional,’ such as “inappropriate/offensive attire,” which includes underwear and “provocative posing in bikinis/swimwear.” It was highlighted that the critique was aimed at people posing in bikinis--swimwear typically donned by females--and the paper was reviewed by an all-male editorial board.
Rightfully outraged, hundreds of medical professionals, both male and female, took to their social media accounts to put out a slew of content that would be flagged under these guidelines—pictures on beaches, some with alcohol—with the hashtag #MedBikini. If it weren’t so deeply wrong, this situation might almost be comical. Are doctors not allowed to wear swimwear at the beach, or be seen having a glass of wine at dinner with friends? Are they to live in their white coats, eating, sleeping, and unwinding in the hospitals and medical offices that define their professions?
Medical professionals experience incredibly high rates of burnout, which are even higher among female doctors. Worrying that they won’t receive a spot in the residency program they worked tirelessly to earn because of an Instagram photo at the beach should not be an additional burden. Having majority male panels decide whether a woman’s self-expression is or isn’t professional is undeniably sexist. The #MedBikini movement aimed to shed some light on just how ridiculous these parameters are, and it succeeded in that the study was retracted. Unfortunately, this incident only sheds a dim light on the unconscious bias that continues to discriminate within professional fields.
Medical ethics is concerned with treating patients and research participants well, but what about the treatment of our scientists and doctors? It certainly seems unethical to allow implicit biases to dictate what doctors-in-training are “allowed” to do with their bodies, or wear on their personal platforms. They are human beings first, and should be able to express themselves on social media just like the rest of us.
Goldberg, E., Women Doctors Ask: Who Gets to Decide What’s ‘Professional’? The New York Times, 2020.