An open letter from our Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Anupuma Verma, to FIGS.
Last week 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.
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. Why is this 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.
No one should tolerate these derogatory and misogynistic ads, and the furor that followed from the medical community is 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, are cutting out the Figs logo and tags from their scrubs. Many are returning their newly ordered scrubs or saying that 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.
Bravo!!! While I have never worn FIGS scrubs I never will. I have been a dermatologist for 30+ years and I am still called by my first name by many male patients, despite my correcting them. When with a group of people I don’t know they seem surprised to find out women have been so fortunate to “break the glass ceiling” with hard work and true grit! I applaud you for taking the time to write such an insightful letter
We need to fight the big stuff, not the little stuff. To me it would not be offensive, but funny! Big stuff… pay inequality and abuse.
Sorry, but the “big stuff “ doesn’t happen without the “little stuff”.
Thank you so much for reading.
I would correct people as well, when I was first starting out.
Even my closest friends (and their children) call me “Dr. Denise”, so I did not understand why patients would insist on calling me by my first name.
After 2 corrections, I decided I stopped correcting them, and just treated them the way I would treat any other patient, with compassion and caring. I guess some men just needed to be sure we were “peers,” and that I was not in any way “superior” to them?
I NEVER would project any type of superiority, but I do have a set of skills that they obviously needed…
Some people asked what I preferred which was nice.
Now as an mid- career physician, I think I would just say, “I prefer to be called Dr. Blocker by my patients,” each and every time they use my first name…
but it truly has not come up lately.
I always liked it when my older male patients just called me “Doc” fondly. I like to think that that seemed to fit me perfectly. 🙂
I have been practicing medicine in America for nearly 40 yrs and in spite of wearing a lab coat with my name and MD, clearly written on the front pocket, I am referred to as Ms. J, repeatedly.
Many times I am asked, “When will my real doctor see me?”
This is not just this Figs company, it’s the culture here.
with 70+ millions voting for the clown, Trump, you can’t expect anything different.
Hopefully it’ll change with the new administration.
Was planning to buy Figs scrubs for Christmas for my 25 yr old daughter starting clinical rotation in Med School. Definitely not doing it.
Good for you! It’s the little stuff that sets the tone for the big stuff.
Arleen, I disagree. The “big stuff” is rooted in these types of stereotypes; these seemingly “small” things create a pervasive idea that is sexist and toxic. They would never put a man in that situation in an ad… it wouldn’t be considered funny. The fact that this seems funny is the very problem.
My first time in the OR was in 1972. I was invited to observe surgery by Dr. Jamplais at Stanford. He sent me to the women’s dressing room where I found only scrub dresses. He introduced me as his medical student to the OR staff. They were too polite to correct this well respected surgeon. I was 16 and looked about 12 wearing the scrub dress with ankle socks, not realizing there were no scrub pants for women. I’m now retired, but spent my whole career wearing scrubs that were too big at the shoulders and too small at the hips. I’d rather have poorly fitting scrubs that support a company that thinks women physicians are a joke.
The small stuff just shows the prevailing attitudes that lead to the big stuff. I went to medical school in the 1980s, so I’ve experienced a lot of biases against women physicians firsthand. An advertising campaign such as this has no place at any time, but I thought we had moved beyond this by now. It reminds me of a pharmaceutical presentation I attended as a medical student about a GERD drug which featured a movie demonstrating how the drug worked by overlaying a cartoon of the drug onto a real naked woman’s body.
I have been a physician for 40 years, made less than my male counterparts but loved my job and my patients. An ad like this is a slap in the face and unlike Dr. Verma, I can not expect and would not accept forgiveness. This company owes every hard working MD, DO, RN and any other female health care giver who spent their hard earned money on their product a sincere apology and a change in marketing that emphasizes how much better off the medical system is because of the women who practice.
This is hysterical! What you have is marketing types who are being cute which is ok. But it is a reflection of what lay people who are not physicians, who have no idea how heavy the responsibilities are for physicians – who make light of the gravitas of being an MD/DO. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the product, but the bigger issue is, are we being “offended” by minor things when there are so many other weightier issues out there.
As an MD and most recently as a medical director of a multi-site outpatient program with hundreds of predominantly female staff, I have to second that persistent ‘little’, ‘silly’, ‘have a sense of humor why don’t you?’ attitudes such as those displayed by and voiced in response to this ad campaign are representative of systemic biases which cause genuine harm— so really, not trivial, funny or so simply dismissed. This ad is an example of being laughed at and not laughed with. While it’s been just a century since some women in the USA re-earned the right to vote, the preceding centuries linger from poorly supported domestic violence laws, lack of parity in pay scales and access to opportunity. I’d suggest that Figs realize women make up the majority of the healthcare workforce (although not yet of its leadership). I also submit that if ads they’ve made to entice customers are so blatantly biased, how likely is it that the company creating them truly supports equity and inclusion internally? Is such a business one worthy of support? For my children, godchildren, nieces and nephews, for my colleagues, team members and mentors, for my great grandparents who drove their daughter from their Oregon farm to DC by Model A so she’d better grasp why her newly won right to vote so mattered, for my great-great aunt who was a suffragette, I hope not.
Agree with SW – This is a marketing campaign gone wrong; people who are not physicians conceived of it and thought it was funny. No malignant intention is behind this; they did the same with a male model. In this “cancel culture” that we have now, how about we lighten up. I have been a woman in medicine for 32 years and we just have so many more important battles than this. Being offended by every little thing is not a way to live. Pick your causes better, this one is of no lasting consequence.
As a psychiatrist who has practiced for many years, I know that allowing these little things to be overlooked causes a little self esteem to be chipped away every time it happens and you say nothing. You can be kind and polite as you point out that you are a doctor. I solved this problem by inviting my patients to call me Dr. D since my last name is difficult for many to pronounce.
I agree that these “little” things are the death by a thousand cuts to a female physician”s self-esteem. It is past time for these attitudes to stop. Many patients do not use a first name out of disrespect and will listen to your preference if corrected. So often in my specialty I was the first female physician they had ever encountered. But companies should definitely know better by now.