Doctors are sharing their finest swimsuit selfies online after a controversial new study claimed that surgeons who post these kinds of pictures are “unprofessional.”
The study, published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, touched on the impact of “publicly available social media content” and how it could affect future patients’ physician choices. In order to conduct the study, the researchers, who were mostly men, created “neutral” — i.e., undercover — accounts to investigate content posted online.
They deemed photos that display alcohol, that contain “inappropriate attire” such as bathing suits or costumes, and posts with censored profanity or controversial opinions as “potentially unprofessional content.”
Many doctors were quick to confront the suit-shaming study. Both men and women physicians labeled it sexist and troubling, and said those kinds of photos have no bearing on a doctor’s ability to do their job.
“If you are a true #heforshe, then you must speak up against this disturbing study,” tweeted Dr. Mudit Chowdhary, calling for a retraction of the paper. “Worse they are shaming our women physician colleagues for wearing bikinis.”
None of the researchers responded to The Post’s request for comment on the criticisms launched at their paper. However, Thomas Cheng and Jeffrey Siracuse, two of the authors, tweeted identical apologies after the public outcry, saying in part, “Our intent was to empower surgeons to be aware and then personally decide what may be easily available for patients and colleagues to see about us. However, this was not the result. We realize that the definition of professionalism is rapidly changing in medicine and that we need to support trainees and surgeons as our society changes. We are sorry that we made the young surgeons feel targeted and that we were judgmental.”
Nevertheless, using the hashtag #MedBikini, female doctors began clapping back with photos of themselves in their swimsuits — some with alcohol in hand.
“A public profile of abject drunkenness, drug-taking or flagrant sexual disinhibition in a doctor is certainly unprofessional,” Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor at the University of Oxford, told The Post. “But there is surely nothing wrong with a photograph showing a doctor, say, holding single alcoholic drink when off duty, wearing swimwear on holiday or dressed up for Halloween.”
Greenhalgh, 61, took to Twitter to post her own photo in a bikini — one that she said “is not sexual in nature,” as she is an avid swimmer. “To the 28 year old ‘researcher’ who says this is unprofessional for women doctors, I’m old enough to be your grandmother,” she tweeted.
While the paper doesn’t necessarily single out women, the language insinuates that female doctors — and their bikinis — are the focus of the study. That’s why so many women in the medical industry found it so offensive, Greenhalgh said.
Other doctors said it was wrong for the study authors to determine whether their peers were being professional or not. Seattle-based surgeon Lauren Agoubi shared a picture of herself wearing a colorful one-piece swimsuit and drinking a beer to prove her point.
“I certainly want my patients to trust and respect me, and part of that may be influenced by a public social media presence,” Agoubi, 28, told The Post. “However, the bottom line is who decides what is and isn’t unprofessional should not be left up to three men.”
Stephanie, a medical student who requested her last name not be used to avoid the harassment she’s already experiencing for sharing her swimsuit selfies, pointed out that she dresses appropriately to go to the beach — in a bathing suit, not scrubs.
“When I saw that it was three men who authored this paper, I was disappointed but not surprised, considering the many conversations that have happened on #MedTwitter about how professionalism is often an arbitrary set of rules,” she said in a message to The Post on Twitter, noting that the term “professional” is often used as a veiled way to uphold racism and sexism in the industry.
Many Twitter users — physicians and students alike — are calling for the study to be retracted, questioning how it was funded and published in the first place. “So this study was published shaming physicians for being ‘unprofessional’ by wearing bikinis or holding a beer in a photo? And the study was conducted by 3 men who created fake social media accounts to spy on applicants? This ‘study’ must be retracted,” tweeted medical student Nicholas Leighton.
The journal that published the study did not respond to The Post’s request for comment on calls for retraction.
But doctors who joined the social movement said they hoped their bikini-clad efforts could shed light on some of the discrimination they experience from their male peers.
“I hope #MedBikini is the start of health-care workers reflecting on their deeply implicit misogynistic biases and start to restructure their views on what female professionals look like,” Stephanie said. “Women should not have to strip themselves of their femininity and womanhood to be considered a professional, especially in their personal lives.”