Female victims and female perpetrators: medical students’ narratives of gender dynamics and professionalism dilemmas

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Advances in Health Sciences Education


Medicine is a gendered discipline, in which women, both as patients and practitioners, have often held subordinate positions. The reproduction of dominant gender biases in the medical setting can negatively impact the professional development of medical students and the wellbeing of patients. In this analysis of medical students’ narratives of professionalism dilemmas, we explore students’ experiences of gender bias in hospital settings. Seventy-one students participated in 12 group interviews, where they discussed witnessing or participating in various activities that they thought were professionalism lapses. Within the dataset, 21 narratives had a distinctly gendered component broadly pertaining to patient dignity and safety dilemmas, informed consent issues, and female student abuse. Interestingly, perpetrators of such acts were commonly female healthcare professionals and educators. Although students recognized such acts as professionalism lapses and often expressed concern for patient wellbeing, students did not intervene or report such acts due to hierarchical cultural contexts, and at times even reproduced the discriminatory behavior they were criticizing. This raises concerns about medical students’ professionalism development and the extent to which gender bias is ingrained within particular medical systems. The normalization of disrespectful and abusive treatment of female patients poses immediate and future consequences to the wellbeing and safety of women. Furthermore, the same socio-cultural values that sustain these acts may account for perpetrators often being women themselves as they strive to overcome their subordinate position within medicine.

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