The study, which is going to be retracted, is titled "Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons". It was conducted by seven researchers (six of whom are male) and quietly published behind a paywall in the Journal of Vascular Surgery months ago. The researchers based their objective on a 2012 study that found that over 40% of adults search for their potential doctor online and said the information impacted their choice of physician. This week, their findings became free to view.
Examining 235 medical residents through fake social media profiles, the researchers determined that 61 of them had “unprofessional or potentially unprofessional content”, which they defined as: drinking alcohol, using profane language, and wearing "inappropriate/offensive attire" like Halloween costumes, and sharing bikini photos.
Many in the medical profession were unimpressed by the study's assertions, taking to social media to highlight how its contents unfairly targeted women.
Vera Bajarias, a nephrologist in training in the Philippines, shared a photo of herself in a bikini with the caption:
"Misogyny is medieval. Do I have to wear my white coat at all times to deserve the title of 'professional'? Fun, sexy, smart & hard-working can exist in the same space. I can wear swimwear to the beach in my free time & be a competent & compassionate physician at work. #medbikini."
A number of other female doctors participated, sharing photos of themselves with the #MedBikini hashtag, aptly reminding people that how they dress in their personal lives has zero bearing on their professionalism (and, you know, they are allowed to have lives outside of medicine!).
A few male allies showed their support via the hashtag as well, including one who wrote:
"Although no one will want to see this Dad bod here it is in full support of my female colleagues and this misogynistic study. Without my female mentor in med school and the one in residency, I wouldn’t be the surgeon I am today."
Following the backlash, one of the authors and the Journal issued public apologies for the article, with the Journal also announcing that the study would be retracted.
"However, this was not the result... We are sorry that we made the young surgeons feel targeted and that we were judgmental."
The Journal also shared its statement to Twitter, admitting that the "review process failed to identify the errors in the design of the study with regards to conscious and unconscious bias".
Some Twitter users commended the Journal editors (which, unsurprisingly, included two men named Peter and no women) for apologising and pledging to "increase diversity of our editorial boards", while others remained sceptical.
"Kudos to the editors for doing the right thing. Thank you for your support in addressing implicit bias in health care," one said.
"I'm a journal assistant at an academic publication. This would not have gotten past my desk to even be sent out for review. After me would've been an associate editor, several reviewers, and an editor-in-chief. This wasn't an oversight, this is reflective of values," another wrote.
"Well it’s literally two dudes called Peter running the joint. Who could’ve predicted a massive blind spot in that scenario?" added another.