Updated: Jul 28, 2020
There is a recent hashtag going through social media these days - #MedBikini. I was curious why there was a sudden influx of swimsuit photos on my Vet Med Instagram account - posts of side-by-side veterinarians in their lab coats and scrubs with a photo of them enjoying the summer heat.
This post explains it:
@drlibbyrhee We’ve certainly come a long way, but we have a LONG way to go. That much is clear.
You may have heard about the “research” article recently published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery in which three men trolled physicians’ Instagram accounts to identify “inapporpriate” and “provocative” content on social media. Of the “unprofessional” behavior, the authors cited female physicians in bikinis, holding alcoholic beverages, and discussing politics.
Yes, as physicians I do believe we should be held to a higher standard. We bear a huge responsibility to our patients and to those we teach and reach in any way, whether through training or mentoring, via social media, or beyond.
While being a physician is very much identifying, it isn’t the only component of our identities. As a woman who happens to also have 14 years of higher education behind me, I am also a normal human in addition to being a 👩🏻⚕️. Much like male physicians, female physicians also wear bathing suits at the beach, on boats, and on vacation. I know, shocking. 😳 We also enjoy adult beverages, dress up for Halloween, care about the political climate, and have non-medical thoughts in our heads.
Personally, I wish this could have even been a post about how I don’t believe that women need to be like men to be respected as professionals and physicians. We aren’t even close enough to the equality discussion here. What these male authors suggested was that women shouldn’t even be human or do every day things that our male colleagues do every day without judgement. Clearly, male 👨🏻⚕️ wear bathing suits while swimming and drink alcoholic beverages, and they also share those choices on social media. Yet, there is no “research” into their “inappropriate behavior”.
Perhaps it’s time to investigate mysoginy in medicine (and beyond; a Herculean-sized study). These unspoken prejudices continue to create barriers for equality in medicine, and these attitudes undoubtedly pose a disservice to both our patients as well as colleagues of all genders. We are all our best when we can be who we are without shame or judgement.
👩🏻⚕️ Let’s move forward better together. C’mon people. #FreeToBeYouAndMe
A quick Google Scholar search brings you to the article itself. So let’s take a look at what these “scientists” have to say.
In science, you come up with a hypothesis, and then a way to test this hypothesis. These researchers hypothesized that by posting on your social media of you living your life outside of work will diminish your reputation as a professional in medicine. How would you objectively test such a theory? You would set up a clinical trial, perhaps showing new patients their social media accounts, and then double-blinded (i.e. the researchers and the patients do not know 'treatment' groups), take said data and run a statistical analysis to determine if there is a significant difference between patient's perception of their doctor when their social media accounts show real-life versus only medical posts. Then, does this determine if these patients opted not to return for future services by this doctor (in the U.S. they pay out of pocket for their medical services). Do the doctors who post about their life outside of work suffer from loss of patients? Do these patients leave and go elsewhere? Does the content of their social media accounts construe the patient's perception of their doctor as unprofessional if they share posts of them in swimsuits or holding a drink?
Or do patients like to know that their doctor is human? That their doctor does things that they can relate to? Furthermore, does posting a photo of you enjoying your weekend in the sun diminish the quality of medicine that you provide? Arguably, work-life balance improves your mindset at work.
So how did these researchers test their hypothesis?
So far, it doesn't actually say whether the prevalence of "unprofessional" social media content is predictive of a decrease in patient care.
An article was recently posted on Forbes suggesting that the Journal of Vascular Surgery is to retract the article (though at the time of writing this it was still available for purchase).
Women were outraged, not just of the misogyny of the article, but of the “creeping” without consent and using their profiles in research without their consent.
What does this mean... ”clearly unprofessional or potentially unprofessional content“? Is it considered unprofessional to have a life outside of work? On your weekends, are you allowed to relax on the beach? To get your vitamin D? Are you allowed to enjoy an alcoholic beverage with your friends on your day off? Guess what? People do far worse and don’t advertise it on social media. So does the fact that you hide these antics make it more professional? Something to ponder.
Some of the criteria were specific to laws (though, I did not purchase the article to read it in full), which I would agree with. If you’re posting photos or videos of your breaking the law, sure. But here’s an excerpt on the grey-zones: “Potentially unprofessional content included: holding/consuming alcohol, inappropriate attire, censored profanity, controversial political or religious comments, and controversial social topics.“
If you scroll through my Instagram account, you can see that I have posted about controversial topics - black lives matter (because they do), politically controversial topics (like wearing your mask to protect others from COVID-19), and *gasp* I’m enjoying a social distanced drink with a friend - because having a drink on my weekend is unprofessional?
Oh and look. I also enjoyed the beach, on my down time while travelling to Thailand for a scientific conference where I presented my Master’s research. Hmph.
This blog is meant to be thought provoking. It is meant for you to think huh... I never thought of that. Interesting. Guess what? Controversial issues are thought provoking!
If you read the abstract, you can see that the article is not meant to be directly sexist or misogynistic.
"There was no significant difference in unprofessional content across sex, training paradigm (MD vs non-MD), or residency track (0 + 5 or 5 + 2; all P > .05)."
In fact, they specifically state that 68% of the social media accounts identified were male.
However, within the article they discuss "provocative" attire. So brought the #MedBikini hashtag, making this article itself highly controversial and the creeping of social media accounts as unprofessional. This is a political statement against women in medicine - again. The Forbes article shows that there was direct mention of female medical doctors in bikinis - which is why there was a political up-roar. Women in medicine have had to compete with the men surrounding the fact that women are the child-bearers and therefore have been discriminated against in the workplace. No one is allowed to ask you if you plan to have a baby in the next year during your interview, but you know that they will look at the 20-something-year-old newly graduated female professional differently than their male counterparts. That is undeniable. As Natalie Crawford, MD mentions in her podcasts about gender biases, women have had to fight hard to find a place in this male-dominated profession. Women in veterinary medicine have had to do this too, just at a lot earlier in history than women in human medicine. Female veterinary students have out-numbered male veterinary students in North America for decades.
Medicine does have its supporting characters that disagree with the biases against women, but also of this articles' suggestion that discussion of abortion rights is unprofessional. Like Dr. Chowdhary says, abortion is a medical topic! Just because the topic is controversial, does that mean these physicians should hide their opinions? I bet you every female patient out there would like to know their physician's views on the topic of abortion, racism, sexism and even gun control (hello child safety??).
Just as the hashtag #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives rippled through the social media accounts, this too is a controversial topic.
Not to mention that now that this article is published, the authors are removing their own social media accounts. I can only imagine that they have become targets of this uproar.
Sorry, the public apology is no longer available.
Next it will be an article on how when you publish a scientific article that is controversial how it affects your professional reputation.