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It took a few years work as a doctor before realizing that something was seriously wrong with the way I and other female colleagues were treated by the men who worked alongside us.

Straight out of medical school, I spent two years touring various hospitals, trying out different specialties, and getting a feel for life in the halls, before joining my current team. I was immediately amazed by the dedication I saw in those around me. Our days were tough, with long shifts and difficult circumstances, but helping our patients kept us going. Becoming a doctor was a major event in my family – no one I knew had been to college – and I was thrilled to join a profession that allowed me to care for others and provide a change.

Looking back, I now see that it wasn’t quite the team I thought it was.

Derogatory comments on our appearance were commonplace. Sarcastic remarks intended to embarrass us have been trivialized. Unwanted physical touching became expected.

Female staff were frequently warned of male colleagues to be wary of. ‘Don’t go into a room alone with this consultant’. “Make sure you’re not in the locker room with this surgeon.” Comments like that were whispered to us by female colleagues as we walked down the hall.

At the time, we didn’t really stop to understand how bad those situations were, and there was no safe space in which to bring such behaviors to light. We thought we should just shut up and put up with it, and we were too busy focusing on our patients to think too much about it.

Female staff were frequently warned of male colleagues to be wary of

As a young doctor, I was groping by a consultant at a conference and seriously sexually assaulted by another doctor. Having to spend all day, every day in the same environment in which I was assaulted was traumatic.

The abuse I experienced from male colleagues impacted my career whether I spoke out or not. Because, if we had supervisors to whom we had to contact in the event of a problem, they were most often consultants – many of them men. The medical profession is a small interconnected world, hospitals even more so, and the medical field is a deeply patriarchal institution.

According to the NHS The figures, 66% of consultants are men and 54% of chief executive or NHS director positions are held by men. We all knew that if we filed a complaint with a consultant, they were most likely friends with our abuser – or worse, they were the ones who did it in the first place.

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Eventually, struggling to cope, I dropped out of surgical training and switched to general medicine instead. Getting away from the physical place where I was abused helped me to some extent, but my mental health suffered. I took months off and had therapy to process and cope.

That’s why I decided to start a campaign with my colleague, Dr Chelcie Jewitt, to prevent what happened to me from happening to other women in the NHS. Surviving Scrubs exposes the sexism that so many people face when they go to work in the NHS caring for patients every day.

As part of the campaign, we encourage women and non-binary people of all ethnic backgrounds and physical abilities working in our field to come forward and share their stories. So far we have received 95 submissions, which really shows the magnitude of this problem. We want a safe reporting system within the NHS that is independently run so victims don’t have to put their careers at risk by making a complaint.

We are meeting with the General Medical Council (GMC) to ask them to update their advice to doctors to explicitly include that misogyny will not be tolerated. Currently, the only recommendation is that doctors “behave with respect” – with no clarity on what that means. The Royal Colleges must also implement changes in medical schools, educating students about abuse and sexism in the workplace. Change can only happen from below.

90% of female doctors have experienced sexism at work

Previous to research showed that up to 90% of female doctors have suffered from sexism at work, with 31% reporting unwanted physical behavior and 47% expressing feelings of being treated less favorably because of their gender – but so far , the women didn’t have a place to talk and they weren’t listened to when they did. Sexism and abuse is a societal problem, yes, but it’s also an NHS problem – and we won’t stop telling our stories until it’s eradicated.


In response to Cosmopolitan UK’s request for comment, Professor Colin Melville, Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards at GMC, said: “Hearing the stories of survivors who have been sexually assaulted in a medical environment is heartbreaking and appalling and we absolutely condemn such behavior. There can be no room for misogyny, sexism or any form of sexual harassment in the medical profession. .

“That’s why the consultation in progress on our core guidance for physicians, Good Medical Practice, sets out a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and includes for the first time two explicit duties for physicians; that any form of abuse or discrimination is unacceptable, and an obligation to act and support others if they witness or learn of harassment, bullying or discrimination.

“Our proposals incorporate evidence from recent reports, women’s organizations and other experts. We encourage anyone with lived experiences to contribute their ideas by participating in the consultation.”

Cosmopolitan UK has contacted NHS England and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges for comment.


Dr. Becky Cox and Dr. Chelcie Jewitt thank everyone who submitted their stories and continue to encourage others to share theirs. Learn more about the Surviving in Scrubs campaign and submit your own story, here.

For help with any of the issues discussed in this article, visit: rape crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland or Rape Crisis Northern Ireland. RASASC provides emotional and practical support to survivors, families and friends.

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