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Surgical Scarf Project implemented to support Muslim women looking to build a career in surgery

Surgical Scarf Project implemented to support Muslim women looking to build a career in surgery
01 February 2022

Junior doctors Dr Azra Khatun and her colleague Dr Suga Roy have founded and implemented the Surgical Scarf Project at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust to support Muslim women looking to build a career in theatres.

The project was set up to raise awareness of changes to NHS England’s uniform guidance in April 2020 that meant Muslim women could wear headscarves whilst in theatre.

During her surgical rotation at St Mary’s Hospital, Azra found the option to wear a head scarf in theatres had not yet been implemented.

Azra, who is now training in the Midlands, and her colleague Suga worked together to develop the Surgical Scarf Project to help other Muslim women to develop their careers in surgery without comprising their values and beliefs.

Through their research they discovered that the lack of awareness of the guidance change was something medical students and junior doctors were experiencing up and down the country.

In 2014, Samina Ali, a specialty registrar in vascular surgery, Virginia Bowbrick, Consultant vascular surgeon published an article in the British Medical Journal about ‘Supporting diversity in surgical careers: flexibility in theatre uniforms.’

“Women are under-represented in surgical specialties. Even though most doctors in training are women, there are only 25% of female surgical trainees.

“There are even fewer women in senior positions in surgery—less than 10% of surgical consultants are women, even though women make up 24% of consultants across the NHS.

“About 3% of medical students are Muslim, and many of these students follow the religious practice of wearing a hijab (a head dress or scarf worn to cover the head, neck, and shoulders) or abaya (a loose outer garment).”

By working together with the Medical Director, theatres and with the support of the Trust’s Staff Equality and Diversity Network, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust has now implemented the surgical scarf.

Azra said: "The Surgical Scarf Project is a campaign and a procurement package aiming to raise awareness about the recent changes in NHS uniform guidance in theatres and also to ultimately empower Muslim women medical students and junior doctors to enter a career in surgery.

"The Isle of Wight NHS Trust is the first Trust in the Wessex Region to have implemented the surgical scarf. By working together alongside our Race Equality Staff Network we were able to procure a supply of surgical scarves in October 2021.

"The use of the scarves was also reflected by updating the Uniform Policy to ensure our female Muslim medical staff can attend theatre without compromising their core values and beliefs."

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