As we finish up 2021, we are flashing back to one of our most read blog posts from 2020. This is an open letter from our Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Anupuma Verma, to FIGS in response to a controversial and poorly received ad used to promote their products.

Picture by Dr. K Kay Moody who is a DO emergency physician and founder of the EM DOCS Facebook group which has 22,000 members. She was also one of our Top 12 Women in White Coat Heroes of 2019. (Published with permission from Dr. K Kay Moody.)

The Issue

Last fall, we in the medical field were all shaken up by some ads run by FIGS, a company that sells expensive scrubs and medical apparel. They depicted a young female physician in bright pink scrubs holding a book titled “Medical Terminology for Dummies,” upside down. The camera also zoomed in to focus on the model’s curves and the name badge attached to her scrubs and the book mentioned above.

It touched a sensitive nerve as even today, many women physicians are paid seventy cents to a dollar compared to men. Many women doctors are also not given the credibility and leadership positions they often deserve.

The name badge hanging off the waistline also depicted a DO or doctor of osteopathy and only made matters worse, suggesting that they are less than MDs. When, in fact, they undergo very similar and rigorous training to get their degree and are also required to complete a residency program just like their MD counterparts.

How It Got Even Worse

At the same time, the very next day, Figs portrayed a male nurse in a similar situation wearing their brand of scrubs, holding the same book upside down again.

The issue is that this did not seem to be a genuine mistake but a series of infractions. The half-hearted apology that followed only added insult to injury. This left us questioning why something like this was still happening in 2020?

Depictions like these continue to fuel misogyny, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and denigration of our medical degrees. 

These advertisements on social media and elsewhere also add to the distrust of physicians and medical professionals at a time when we are already living in a disheartening political and cultural environment in the midst of an overwhelming pandemic. Science and doctors are not getting the value and respect they deserve, male or female, DOs or MDs. Women physicians are also at the frontlines battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and this kind of advertising completely trivializes their service.

The Response from the Medical Community

No one should tolerate these derogatory and misogynistic ads, and the furor that followed from the medical community was wholly justified. Fortunately, the entire physician community came together in support of women physicians and DOs. A campaign even started on Twitter with women physicians holding medical books that they co-authored.

Women doctors, the primary purveyors of the Figs brand, started cutting out the Figs logo and tags from their scrubs. Many returned their newly ordered scrubs and decided they will never purchase from Figs again. 

FIGS, you can do much better than this! You have created the damage, and though you ultimately will be forgiven, the ramifications of those utterly uncalled for videos will be much harder to erase.

Dr. Anupama Verma is the Editor-in-Chief of the Women in White Coats blog and a CoAuthor of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats 2. She is a nephrologist who has been practicing for more than fifteen years and has lived on four continents. She can be followed on Instagram and Twitter @anuvmd. To hear more in-depth discussion on this topic listen to this podcast episode.