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Ooo doctor! Don’t carry on



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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