"Just a reminder that just because you show a little skin in your bathing suit and gym clothes doesnt make you any less intelligent, beautiful, compassionate and professional."

By Faith Brar
July 27, 2020
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Healthcare professionals are fuming after a reputable, peer-reviewed medical journal published a study that suggested there's a "prevalence of unprofessional social media content" among young surgeons.

The study, published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, evaluated 480 social media accounts run by vascular (a subspecialty focused on diseases of the arteries, veins, etc.) surgeons—including 325 (68 percent) male surgeons and 155 (32 percent) female surgeons—to see if their posts could be considered "unprofessional" to prospective patients searching online for a doctor.

In the paper, the study authors categorized "unprofessional" content as either "clearly unprofessional" or "potentially unprofessional." "Clearly unprofessional" content included posts that violated HIPAA guidelines and/or displayed an "intoxicated appearance," drug possession, uncensored profanity, and/or offensive comments about colleagues. "Potentially unprofessional" content, on the other hand, described any posts that showed a doctor holding or consuming alcohol, wearing "inappropriate attire" (including "underwear, provocative Halloween costumes, and provocative posing in bikinis/swimwear"), sharing censored profanity, and/or posts with "controversial" political, religious, or social commentary (including comments about "specific stances on abortion and gun control"), according to the research. (Related: #CoverTheAthlete Fights Sexism In Sports Reporting)

The study found that 61 of these accounts (26 percent) had posts that fell into these two categories. More specifically, eight accounts (3.4 percent) contained "clearly unprofessional" content—most commonly "obvious alcohol intoxication" and "uncensored profanity or offensive comments about colleagues," according to the study's results. Meanwhile, researchers found that "potentially unprofessional" content appeared in 58 accounts (25 percent). The most common "potentially unprofessional" content included posts showing doctors holding or consuming alcohol (29 accounts, or about 12 percent), making controversial political comments (22 accounts, or roughly 9 percent), and/or wearing "inappropriate/offensive attire" (nine accounts, or about 4 percent). Interestingly, the study authors found no significant difference in either category of unprofessional content across gender, medical training paradigm (read: M.D. vs non-M.D.), or residency track, according to the paper. (Related: Why Sexism and Catcalling Forced Me to Quit the Gym)

After reading the study, medical professionals across the board are calling out the study authors for unfairly deeming bikini pics—as well as commentary on important subjects like abortion and gun control—"unprofessional" content. Using the hashtag #MedBikini, female surgeons, in particular, are posting side-by-side photos of themselves in scrubs and swimsuits with cocktails in hand, to show that women can (obviously) be more than one thing.

"If my desire to show alllllllll my cleavage, be a 'naughty' doctor for Halloween, have drinks at brunch, or speak out against gun violence or in favor of abortion (both major public health issues) somehow implies that I lack professionalism then you can keep swiping," ob-gyn Kameelah Phillips, M.D., shared on Instagram.

Echoing Dr. Phillips' sentiments, Georgina Villarreal, M.S.N., R.N., a nurse based in Chicago, noted that "just because you show a little skin in your bathing suit and gym clothes doesn't make you any less intelligent, beautiful, compassionate and professional."

In addition to taking issue with the study's sexist implications, some medical professionals used their #MedBikini posts to highlight sexism that already exists (and, clearly, continues to exist) in the medical community. In an Instagram post, Danielle DonDiego, D.O., M.B.A., a doctor based in Atlanta, recalled an experience where her past work as a fitness competitor was used against her in a job interview. (Related: When Sexism Is Masked By a Compliment)

"My very first job interview was the most unprofessional interaction I've had to date," she wrote on Instagram. "The lady (yes sexism is enforced by women, too) interviewing me had zero interest in my accomplishments, references, leadership, or academics. Instead, she told me that 'no one will accept you in this practice with your ass all over the internet.'"

The interviewer then told her to delete all of her fitness competition posts if she wanted to be taken seriously, DonDiego continued in her post. "My fitness journey is a big part of why I went into medicine and became an obesity specialist, but none of that mattered," she shared.

Truth is, sexism and lack of female representation in the medical field have been alive and well for decades. Even though there are more women in medicine than ever before, there is still a serious lack of women in influential leadership positions in medical institutions. In one study, published in The British Medical Journal, researchers looked at the demographics of over a thousand clinical department leaders at the top 50 medical schools in the U.S. and found that women accounted for just 13 percent (or 137 of 1,018) of those department leaders.

Similarly, even though women accounted for 41 percent of full-time medical school faculty in 2018, they made up only 25 percent of tenured faculty, 25 percent of full-time professors, and 38 percent of associate professors, according to the American Medical Association.

Then there's the issue of the gender pay gap. To gain some perspective on that, a 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study looked into faculty at some of the most prominent public medical schools in the U.S. Researchers found that the annual salaries of female academic doctors were 8 percent lower than those of male physicians, even after controlling for age, years of experience, specialty, faculty rank, and several other research productivity measures.

What's more, female physicians are often mistaken for anything but a doctor in a hospital setting—something BIPOC women are subjected to even more. Case in point: In 2016, the hashtag #WhatADoctorLooksLike began trending on Twitter after countless Black women shared how often they're told that they do not fit the description of what a doctor looks like. (See: #ShareTheMicNowMed Is Highlighting Black Female Doctors)

On the bright side, after the hashtag #MedBikini started trending, the Journal of Vascular Surgery issued a statement of apology on Twitter, saying it failed to consider "conscious and unconscious bias" in the study and that the journal plans to retract the research.

"We offer an apology to every person who has communicated the sadness, anger, and disappointment caused by this article," continues the statement. "We have received an outpouring of constructive commentary on this matter, and we intend to take each point seriously and take resolute steps to improve our review process and increase diversity on our editorial boards."

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