A London physician who told medical students to act less gay if they wanted to get further in their careers is lashing out against critics who called her comments homophobic.
In a guide for the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Clinical Skills Assessment interviews, Dr. Una Coales (right) described one interviewee who set the gaydar off at ten paces:
One candidate was facing a 3rd sitting and yet no one had told him that his mannerism, gait, speech were too overtly gay, and that he was sitting an exam administered by a right-wing conservative Royal College.
“So I advised him to lower and deepen his high-pitched voice, neutralise the excessive body movements and walk like a ‘straight’ man.”
The greatest barrier to racial and sexual equality is institutional denial. Working in NHS hospitals, I learned the phrase “be a grey man”, which means don’t cause waves, don’t stand out, don’t speak up, turn a blind eye, and keep your head low. The consequence of “talking about the fight club” – in other words, racism, discrimination or selective social engineering was “career suicide.”
In the article, Coales divulges her own experiences with institutional discrimination as a young doctor:
When I applied for a job in 1994, I was asked: “who is the Captain of the England rugby team?” and “how would you feel as a mother leaving your child at home?” I was unsuccessful.
…Organisational culture tends to reflect a top-down attitude. Having difficulty advancing my career, I asked a renowned surgeon to look over my CV. He made one suggestion: delete my maiden name of “Choi”. I did and was called for interview each time.
She says the advice in her book wasn’t rooted in anti-gay attitudes but pragmatism:
Overt bias has been eliminated from College exams but there is still a risk of subconscious bias. The British Journal of Medical Practitioners 2009 asserted: “As blatant forms of racism become extinguished, unconscious racial biases in subtle forms are appearing. This occurs in people who possess strong egalitarian values, who believe they are not prejudiced, but have negative racial feelings of which they are unaware.”
Subjective bias cannot be eliminated in its entirety. My exam book thus advises doctors on how to adopt behaviour likely to reduce subjective bias; to not draw attention to anything that might distract from a pure appreciation of their medical skills. I am blunt, as many doctors may be in denial about cultural (mis)perceptions. I respect that some feel that to compromise one’s identity is wrong. I make no judgements. My advice has helped hundreds of doctors pass their exams by reducing bias and placing them on an equal footing.
Obviously Coales is a doctor, not a sociologist. So is it her job to confront homophobia and bigotry in medicine or just to help young doctors advance in their field, however that might be accomplished. Write your prescription in the comments section.