Doctor Who? Reaction to Female Casting an Opportunity to Revisit Gender Equality in Healthcare

Posted on July 24, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

On Sunday, immediately after Roger Federer defeated Marin Čilić for his eighth Wimbeldon title, BBC One announced to the world that the next actor to play Doctor Who would be…wait for it…a woman! It is the first time in 13 iterations of Doctor Who (fans call it regenerations) that a woman will play the titular character.

Jodie Whittaker of Broadchurch and Attack the Block fame, will become The Doctor following the annual Christmas special later this year when current actor Peter Capaldi ends his run on the show.

The announcement of Whittaker set off a firestorm of tweets and online comments. Although many were supportive of the move, there were some who felt betrayed by the show’s producers in casting a woman to be The Doctor. Although many tweets came from women-hating trolls (I’m choosing not to give them more air time by highlighting them in this blog), there seem to be an equal number of comments about how this breaks too far from the tradition of the show.

These tweets got me thinking about what it was like for Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the US and Jennie Kidd Trout, the first woman to be a practicing physician in Canada. If we were to transport ourselves back in time (see what I did there?) I can easily imagine hearing the same “but the doctor has always been a man and always should be” refrain from the medical establishment.

Traditions have their place – like Thanksgiving dinners and ice-cream after baseball games – but traditions based on gender (or race for that matter) deserve to be torn down. Healthcare is steeped in tradition and it wasn’t that long ago when the idea of a female clinician was deemed ludicrous. It took courageous people like Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Trout to tear down the walls of medicine’s male-only traditions and blaze the trail for the many women that would come after them. Over the years women have had to fight become physicians, nurses, surgeons, administrators and CEOs. It has been and continues to be a difficult road when compared to their male counterparts.

The same is true for women in HealthIT. You would think that in 2017 gender bias would have gone the way of COBOL, but it lingers. Although it is no longer strange to see women in IT roles, they still have to put up with being bullied, belittled and objectified online and at industry events. There really is no place for this type of behavior. I applaud the efforts of people like Mandi Bishop, Jennifer Dennard, Linda StotskyMel Smith Jones and Regina Holliday who stand up for gender equality in healthcare, yet at the same time I’m sad that their efforts are needed.

If the reaction to the Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who is any indication, we collectively still have a lot of gender equality work to do. We should take Whittaker’s announcement as an opportunity to revisit the issue of inequality in healthcare.