In April 2015, respected Sydney vascular surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin said that “[w]hat I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request”. The comment caused a furore among both medical and non-medical professionals, with spokespersons for the Royal Australian College of Surgeons rejecting claims that a culture of denial and silence towards sexual harassment existed among Australian surgeons. However, since Dr McMullin’s statement, numerous female medical trainees and doctors have come out and talked about their experience of the widespread sexual harassment of women in medicine.
As young adults just starting out in their medical careers, the students who founded Level appreciated the detrimental effect that this could have on female medical students’ aspirations, even at the university level: medicine (whether or not you choose to do surgery) is already a difficult and very demanding profession, and to add the difficulties of gender-based barriers and sexual harassment creates a huge stumbling block for women and those who identify outside gender binary. While more and more trainees are female – reflective of the 50/50 gender ratio in medical graduates – the gender divide across medical specialties is still painfully obvious, with many women choosing or being directed towards what are seen as more ‘female friendly’ careers such as general practice, and only 9% of surgeons being female.
At Level, we’re certainly aware that many people in the medical establishment are aware of gender imbalance in medicine and are working to stop it. There are a host of wonderful doctors, as well as organisations, making important contributions to this area.
However, what we aim to do is provide a place to inspire women and men to talk about ongoing gender disparity in the medical profession and to advocate for and have a robust discussion around gender equality and gender roles among doctors.
We want to change the conversation around women in medicine from one of sexual harassment to one that identifies and addresses barriers to gender equality. We want to enact this change in our own careers and in the medical profession at large.