Tackling sexism in the surgery

Friday 22 May 2015

Sexism is still a huge problem in surgical training and medical schools across the world, Dr Elizabeth Sturgiss and Associate Professor Christine Phillips from ANU Medical School write in the latest edition of ANU Reporter magazine.

"You would expect women to flourish in medicine. Since 1996, women have outnumbered men in Australian medical schools. More than half of general practice trainees, two out of three paediatric trainees and close to three-in-four obstetricians in training are women.

"Look at surgical training and this pattern stops. Fewer than one-in-three surgical trainees are women and the numbers fall further as doctors reach advanced training. Just nine per cent of surgeons in Australia are women.

"In March, vascular surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin unleashed a storm by suggesting sexual harassment was common in surgical training. She said gaining redress was so compromised that if a female doctor was propositioned, providing a sexual favour may be the only way to sustain her career.

"Data from medical schools in the US, the UK and Australia all confirm that sexual harassment occurs in medical school.

"A 2005 US study of medical students found 92.8 per cent of female students had experienced, observed or heard about at least one incident of gender discrimination and sexual harassment during medical school. This harassment continues into specialist training.

"Systemic bullying and harassment ranges from crass sexualised jokes, inappropriate touching and crass commentary on female doctors' bodies, to frank requests for sexual favours. Some of these may occur in public but much is unwitnessed."

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Updated:  22 July 2018/Responsible Officer:  Dean, Medical School/Page Contact:  Webmaster, Medical School