Widespread sexism in medicine, says BMA survey

A BMA survey shows widespread sexism within the medical profession.

Doctors standing with their arms crossed - BMA survey


Ninety-one per cent of female doctors have experienced sexism at work, with 42% feeling unable to report it, according to a survey conducted by the British Medical Association [BMA].

The survey of around 2,500 BMA members in March 2021, 82% of whom were female, also found that 84% of those surveyed said that “they felt there was an issue of sexism in the medical profession”. 56% of female respondents said they had received unwanted verbal conduct related to their gender, compared to 28% of men. 

Some 70% of female respondents felt that their clinical ability had been doubted or undervalued because of their gender. Also, 54% of all respondents thought that sexism acts as a barrier to career progression.

One GP said: “I was asked at an interview if I was planning on having children. I’ve had male patients refusing to see me as want to see a proper (ie male) doctor.” She was also “advised I was not pretty enough to cause a distraction in meetings so they could treat me like a bloke.”

The acting chair of the BMA’s representative body, Dr Latifa Patel said: “It is appalling that we are seeing these statistics, hearing these stories and talking about these inequalities in 2021.

“The report makes for shocking reading and there is no place for sexism in society. If we want to eradicate it, we all have a part to play. It’s going to take a concerted effort, and it won’t be quick to fix, but sexism must stop.”

The BMA survey also showed that 28% of male respondents feel that they have/had more opportunities during training because of their gender, compared to 1% of female respondents. This could lead to female doctors being relegated to lower jobs due to their gender, which was the case of one junior doctor who said: “I have been asked to massage consultants’ shoulders during surgical multi-disciplinary team working.”

The survey also says that patients often believe that female doctors are not as capable as their male colleagues and tend to not recognise their contribution as medical professionals.

A female junior doctor recalls taking care of patient and seeing him every day for two weeks. She said: “On a consultant ward round day he shook the hand of the consultant, foundation year 1 medic (he had never met him before) and medical student and thanked them for their professionalism. There was a notable absence of a handshake for me; I was the only woman.”

Dr Patel called for collaboration across the NHS to tackle sexism. She said: “We need adequate representation at every level, on every leadership group and in every meeting. That way sexism has no place to flourish and nowhere to hide.

“We are definitely stronger together and I look forward to helping the BMA to design recommendations that will make a difference to the world of medicine because then it will be a better place for everyone.”

The catalyst for the report was Dr Chelcie Jewitt, a junior doctor who decided to start a campaign following her personal experience of sexism to collect evidence of the issue in medicine. 

Dr Jewitt said: “I felt humiliated and belittled by the way I was spoken to and even though I knew I was tired after a gruelling set of night shifts, I couldn’t shake the feeling of upset and anger.” She continued: “Two weeks after a consultant completely ignored my contributions in favour of a male doctor while I was handing over after a busy shift, I knew I couldn’t just let it lie.”

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