Call for Barbie to take up surgery

The Barbie doll has been seen as a huge influence on young girls – and has medical kits but only for working in limited areas of medicine, according to an analysis published today.

The dolls should adopt careers in medicine and science in areas where women are under-represented, such as surgery, according to the analysis.

The research published in the traditionally light-hearted Christmas issue of The BMJ analysed Barbie medical professional and scientist dolls to determine the kinds of professions they hold and their professional accuracy.

Barbie shot to international prominence again this year following the release of a phenomenally successful movie.

Dr Katherine Klamer, of Indiana University School of Medicine, USA, set out to identify the medical and scientific fields that Barbie dolls worked in compared with other career dolls and to determine if they met clinical and laboratory safety standards.

Her findings are based on analysis of 92 Barbie brand career dolls, comprising 53 doctors, 10 scientists, two science educators, 15 nurses, 11 dentists, and one paramedic) and a comparison group of 65 non-Barbie brand career dolls, of which there were 26 doctors, 27 scientists, seven nurses, two dentists, two engineers and one MRI technician from July to November 2023.

Barbie brand career dolls were overwhelmingly depicted as adult (98%), female (93%), and white (59%) and no doll was depicted as having a visible disability. Of the comparison dolls, 32% were white and one doll had a prosthetic arm.

Out of the Barbie brand medical professional dolls, 66% largely treated children while 4% were depicted as working with adult patients.

Other than three ophthalmologist dolls, all Barbie brand doctor dolls appeared to have either no specialty or were paediatricians.

While Barbie brand dolls often came with laboratory coats, microscopes, stethoscopes, and glasses, none fully met professional safety standards for their respective fields and more than two thirds of Barbie brand female medical professional and scientist dolls also wore loose hair, and more than half wore high heeled shoes, even in settings where this would be discouraged or actively prohibited for safety reasons.

Of the 12 scientist Barbie brand dolls, none met all proper personal protective equipment requirements related to hair and clothing.

While comparison dolls offered a wider range of age and ethnic groups than the Barbie doll group did, the dolls similarly struggled to portray a wide range of medical and scientific subfields and most comparison dolls did not wear proper personal protective equipment.

“For young girls’ sakes as much as her own, Barbie must keep shattering glass ceilings,” she concludes.

The Christmas edition of The BMJ also carries a study that finds a new Doctor Who episode shown during the festive period, especially on Christmas Day, is associated with lower death rates in the subsequent year across the UK.

Professor Richard Riley, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, examined the association between new Doctor Who episodes aired from 24 December to 1 January and the subsequent year’s age standardised death rates from the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

Only new televised episodes from 1963 were considered and up to 2022 a new Doctor Who episode was broadcast during 31 festive periods, including 14 episodes shown on Christmas Day, 13 of which were consecutive from 2005 to 2017.

An association was found between broadcasts during the festive period and subsequent lower annual death rates, with episodes shown on Christmas Day being associated with about six fewer deaths per 10,000 person years in England and Wales and four fewer deaths per 10,000 person years in the UK.

The reduction was even higher when Doctor Who was consistently shown over the festive periods from 2005 to 2019, mainly on Christmas Day, with an average seven fewer deaths per 10,000 person years in England and Wales and six fewer deaths per 10,000 person years in the UK.

Klamer K. Analysis of Barbie medical and science career dolls: descriptive quantitative study. BMJ 19 December 2023; doi: 10.1136/ bmj-2023-077276

Riley R. Effect of a doctor working during the festive period on population health: natural experiment using sixty years of Doctor Who episodes (the TARDIS study). BMJ 19 December 2023; doi: 10.1136/ bmj-2023-077143


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