The #medbikini controversy

Jul 26, 2020 | In Medicine, In Writing

There is nothing unprofessional about a #medbikini.

I was relieved to learn that an article published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery on Friday was retracted. In case you missed it…

Sexism in Medicine

In a clear example of sexism in medicine, the study went so far as to create false social media accounts to ‘creep’ vascular surgery residents’ social media profiles. Of note, all of the individuals who created the accounts, and most of the authors on the paper, were male. This was all done without the residents’ knowledge or consent. The study concluded by criticizing vascular surgery trainees for being too unprofessional on social media.

One of the numerous problems with this research was the authors’ definition of what constitutes unprofessional behavior. They deemed that it was unprofessional for women to share photos of themselves in 👙 bikinis or “provocative Halloween costumes” on their personal social media accounts.

The research ironically had an unintended side effect: since the publication of this paper, there has been a major backlash. So much, in fact, that the authors apologized and the Journal retracted the paper. Since Friday, women doctors have been taking to social media platforms like Twitter and using the hashtag #medbikini, posting photos of themselves in bikinis to protest the idea that wearing a bikini constitutes unprofessional behaviour. The study exposed some of the serious gender biases that are all-too prevalent in medicine.

Did you know that over half of my medical school class was comprised of women? Whether it’s medicine, engineering or stock trading women are increasingly occupying positions traditionally held by men. As these changes occur, we must closely monitor and advocate against sexism within the system.

Professionalism in Medicine

As doctors, whether male or female, we are encouraged to completely detach our personal lives, and even our personalities, from our role as a doctor.Could this be doing more harm than good?

I’ve always thought it was unfair that I have immediate access to my patients’ complete medical files while they usually know next to nothing about me. I know details about their last pregnancy, their recent mental health struggles, even about their food intolerances. Yet us doctors are supposed to remain mysterious and neutral. Caring but aloof. We are expected to refrain from divulging too much about ourselves. Would patients not feel more comfortable if we opened up a bit more, and if sharing was more like a two-way street? A study from 2017 actually found that sharing online biographies about physicians could help reduce communication apprehension among patients.

Doctors as Health Advocates

Another major issue with the paper is that it argued that it is unprofessional for doctors to discuss controversial political issues on social media. This runs contrary to the recommendations of many professional guiding bodies. If you examine the core competencies of being a physician, as outlined by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, we should be serving as health advocates. Instead of encouraging such advocacy, the above-mentioned article considered the vascular surgery residents as acting unprofessionally if they discussed issues like gun control or abortion on their social medial platforms.

Discussing taboo issues is necessary for progress in society. Doctors deserve the right to weigh in on controversial issues just as much as anyone else. And maybe now and again we can also share an image of ourselves being regular humans and having fun in (gasp!) a bikini 🙂

Reducing sexism in medicine and reexamining professionalism in medicine is how we move forward.

Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!


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