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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Ooo doctor! Don’t carry on

Dr Shaba Nabi

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‘Carry on Doctor’ may have showcased the comedic skills of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, but when I reflect on the flagrant sexism and misogyny portrayed in this 1967 film, it makes me wince.

And as the world of politics and celebrity comes under the sexual harassment spotlight, I look back at my training in the 80s and wonder if the prevailing images of previous decades were – in part – responsible.

Of course, there will be those who claim what we experienced was nothing but harmless ‘banter’ and the norm at the time. But this is missing a vital point. The so called ‘witch hunt’ is not about sex. It’s about abuse of power – and there is a significant power differential between a consultant and a medical student or junior doctor.

When I reflect on my own training, I have no doubt that there will be countless women with far worse experiences than mine. Experiences which were laughed off at the time to avoid being labelled a troublemaker or a spoilsport. But transport these experiences into current medical school training, and there would certainly be some heads on blocks.

My junior doctor years continued to expose me to these smatterings of inappropriate male behaviour

I turned 18 only a month before I started medical school. In my first term, we had a clinical session on how to perform an ECG. The middle-aged scientist for this session insisted the girls paired with each other as we needed to be topless. He then proceeded to come behind the curtain to ensure our ‘electrodes were positioned correctly’.

My ECG partner and I laughed it off at as a rite of passage but now I just feel angry at this blatant abuse of power.

Shortly after this experience, I was in a lecture delivered by another scientist. I think he was teaching us about the gender of microbes, but the next thing I knew, there was a picture of a topless woman in his slide show. To this day, I have no idea about the point he was trying to make. There were sniggers from the boys, but the girls were just resigned to this objectification of women.

My junior doctor years continued to expose me to these smatterings of inappropriate male behaviour; unprovoked innuendoes, public humiliation and predatory behaviour. It was difficult for most women to protest because of the collusion which facilitated this behaviour, thereby making it an accepted norm. I can recall one occasion when I did speak up against a surgeon after he made lewd suggestions in front of a theatre full of spectators. His genuine remorse afterwards made me realise how truly embedded and subconscious this behaviour is.

As there are many parallels between the world of politics and the world of medicine, it will be no surprise to me when the #MeToo campaign finally hits the medical profession. Men in senior leadership positions, women desperately trying to climb the greasy pole and a system which buries drunken impropriety.

It is likely to be a busy time for the GMC, but hopefully it will mean the end of ‘Carry on Doctor’ forever.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol

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Readers' comments (15)

  • as somebody who has never knowingly behaved inappropriately to anyone I get a bit nervous about this., (although I applaud the sentiment)

    vexatious and unfair allegations seem to be the norm for doctors (both male and female) to put up with. reassure me this will not be used as yet another avenue to attack the innocent with unprovable allegations

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  • You may find take some interest in the "free the nipple" campaign.

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  • Sad really... if this is the only way some people get their kicks ....
    Ward round and cardiologist puts hand down Young female patients blouse to ... ahem... auscultate
    felt really uncomfortable as a junior..
    Why don't you just listen over the thin blouse..
    Unfortunately the behavior of some
    leads to intense scrutiny for us all...

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  • At medical school in 1994, one of my female colleagues was groped by a member of the clinical staff within full view of a full team of theatre staff. The (male) Dean of the Medical School at the time was extremely supportive and this staff member was disciplined and dismissed as a result of an investigation.

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  • But please remember that not everyone behaved like this! I know you never said that they did but I think we all need to be to be clear that the disreputable behaviour you describe was perpetrated by only a small subsection of the profession.

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  • As Shaba says the real issue is the abuse of power. The problems are not just sexual, but abuse in all areas. We (male and female) have all had to put up with being abused by those ‘above us’ (doctors, managers, media and politicians). Sadly this is not going to change much. The pendulum is currently swinging in one direction, but give it time and everything will return to the same level of abuse. It goes on inside families, among board members, in fact everywhere. The real cause of this is insecurity. Many of us suffer from this. Given power the insecure get their kicks out of knocking ‘others’ down, often publicly to show their power. Arrogance is an another example of insecurity. Some of us develop a high brow accent when meeting people that are subjectively ‘above us’ for the first time. Then there are those that like to show off their qualifications or turn up in an expensive car..... It is all just insecurity. Just look at Donald Trump.

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  • I wonder if Jeremy Hunt is insecure

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  • AlanAlmond

    What happens if you find yourself in the wrong unfashionable box? Unable to find cause to complain about being unfairly treated because you are female/brown/asexual/trained overseas because you are none these. Does this mean you will labelled some kind of sexist/racist/homophoic/xenophobic for not belonging to the aforementioned tribe? There seems no end to the labels we can apply to ourselves to construct virtual barriers between our fellow human beings. I find much to be depressed about in the increasingly ghettoised debate going on about almost every issue in society. I remain convinced, however, that most people are good, only a few are bad. Can we not be a little more inclusive in our discussions or surely we run the risk of making everyone the enemy when in fact most of ‘the others’ are your friends and also agree abuse of power is bad whoever the perpetrator.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Every matter has its origin and end , every incident has its beginning and conclusion.
    And evil Mao also said , there is nothing called ‘love’ without a reason and there is no such thing as ‘hate’ without origin.
    Perhaps the world has been really old fashioned for very long time . Those ‘elites’ have been ‘leading’ societies for too long and now those that have been ‘led’ are trying to restore equality through more transparency.
    I think it is fair to say the system(s) under which we are living has favoured those with power more than those without. Problem is all the time we want efficiency , efficiency and efficiency.
    Clearly , centralisation of power + absolute obedience = high efficiency. (As seen in neo-totalitarianism)
    Then , we have totally ignored the categorical imperative of respecting each other as rational beings.
    As I wrote in the past , we are left only with the option of cleaner , transparent and humble politics .....

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  • AlanAlmond

    Vinci I beg to differ
    centralisation of power + absolute obedience = failed state (e.g. North Korea, USSR)
    It’s only when you set the people free that they have the space to create the future.

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