Women surgeons in Turkey suffering from workplace mobbing

Women surgeons in Turkey suffering from workplace mobbing

Female surgeon Professor Yeşim Erbil is one of the best in her field. After working for many years in the public sector, last year she quit her position at Istanbul University’s Çapa Medical Faculty Hospital. Her reason was simple: She could no longer bear the systemic discrimination against woman. Today she works in the private sector.

Her fight did not finish with her resignation. She often stands up for female surgeons who experience workplace “mobbing,” a form of bullying carried out by a group of people rather than one individual. She says women are routinely ignored and underappreciated.

Erbil twice served as president of the Turkish Surgeon Foundation. She has performed endocrine surgery for 25 years and made valuable contributions to the growth of the practice in Turkey. She began her assistantship at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1987, became docent in 1999, and professor in 2005.

When asked about her resignation last year, she described her “anger” at the management. “I was disappointed. At a certain point I realized the system was unfair. No distinction was made between those who worked and those who did not. At 52-years-old, I quit my job and started working in the private sector,” she said.

She said she was tired of seeing good work ignored and valuable projects unappreciated.

Surgery considered a male profession

“You have been involved in training activities throughout your whole academic life and have written many books. You have made live broadcasts of operations. You have the most foreign publications in your field to your name. Despite these accolades, male surgeons are better-known than you. Why?” I asked.

“A male-centric mindset dominates our profession. Successful female surgeons do exist but few know them,” Erbil replied.

They want female surgeons to examine them but male surgeons to perform operations, she added, saying “men are power symbols. This attitude must change.”

“It is difficult for a female surgeon to be successful in this country. The female surgeons who want to perform stomach intestinal surgery have been restrained for many years. They normally direct you to breast or endocrine operations, the importance of which they underestimate,” she said.

I said I had watched one of her videos where she said she felt the need to be more “masculine” in order to be accepted by her colleagues.

“In order to be accepted, I adopted their way of speaking. If I had told them to stop, they would have marginalized me, restricting my access to the operations table. There is pressure on female surgeons to behave in a more masculine way,” she said.

I asked her if her patients thought men were more skilled as surgeons than women.

Erbil said this was a misbelief and actually women were more skilled.

“There is a big difference: Women can control their ego with greater ease but men are often overwhelmed by their ego and are therefore prone to perform operations more recklessly. Female surgeons consider every possibility in advance and pay a greater attention to detail,” she said.

But we need to face the truth: Female surgeons are ignored and undervalued in our country.

To conclude, here are some striking figures discovered by the Female Surgeons Working Group:

- 47 percent believe they have experienced mobbing.

- 45 percent believe they have experienced verbal harassment.

- 56.9 percent believe they are underestimated because they are women.

- 47 percent face intimidation by their colleagues or docents. This includes encountering such remarks as: “Do not specialize!” or “Resign!”

- 33 percent feel obliged to wear more masculine clothes in their professional life.

- 68 percent feel obliged to swear or “talk tough.”

- 63 percent say being a woman hinders their academic career.

- 55 percent say they are marginalized after becoming specialists.

- 75 percent feel like they need to work harder than their male colleagues.

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