Katherine Branson Essay Prize 2022 - Highly Commended Prize


Women are advancing in the workforce, yet unique challenges are faced by various communities. What are the challenges faced by women of colour and how can we tackle these?

Essay by Felon Mahrous

Hospital dress policies vs. the hijab: the best of both worlds

There is no doubt that women in the healthcare profession are overcoming the gender hierarchy and flourishing in their medical careers, however, not all women are advancing in the workforce at the same pace. From medical students to junior doctors, hijabi healthcare professionals are still facing predicaments regarding adherence to their faith and contradicting hospital uniform policies. Unfortunately, this is an issue of such significance that a substantial proportion of these women feel like they’re limited in terms of progressing in their future specialities to protect their faith.

Modest dressing is a well-known and established pillar amongst Muslims and is widely acknowledged amongst the general public, however the notion can be quite subjective. The degree to which people cover up can vary and hence there can be diverging views on some of the dress policies enforced by the different trusts. Hence it is necessary to have universal rules that are accustomed to all staff’s needs, just as healthcare professionals are eager to alter the nature of care to the patients’ needs.

Policies regarding wearing the headscarf in theatres vary from trust to trust, creating inconsistency across the NHS and causing complications due to misunderstandings between individuals. Larger hospitals with more awareness address wearing headscarves in theatres and provide guidance, whereas others may disallow it completely. A recent cross-sectional survey identified that over half of individuals are experiencing difficulties trying to wear the headscarf in theatres, with an unsettling 36.5% feeling like they were bullied (1). This is something that would not be tolerated by other larger communities. The thought of having to go through this while undertaking surgery training or even for surgical placement during medical school inevitably deters these women away, ultimately contributing to the under-representations of women in surgery.

A change in NHS England’s uniform guidance in 2020 meant Muslim women could wear headscarves in theatres, however many are oblivious to this change or are yet to implement it. In addition to this, there can be a lack of communication, causing these women to be self-consciousness whilst in the hospital due to problems they face by other staff members. This can add to the insecurities faced by staff and medical students starting their clinical placement, hindering their learning during specific specialities. It is a very frightening experience being told they can’t enter theatres unless they take their headscarf off.

The solution to this problem isn’t one that will require material resources or large amounts of effort, the solution is simple; awareness. If individual hospital communities can establish local projects or initiatives to spread information regarding policy changes, collectively there will be widespread awareness, especially in regions where Muslim women are a significant minority. An example is the surgical scarf project, which has already started to empower and educate (2). It’s also about fellow healthcare professionals advocating for eachother to make these women feel respected, included and more comfortable in the workplace. This will ultimately create a better and safer environment for patient care.

Educating people on the forementioned change to guidance on hijabs in theatres can also be implemented as part of medical school placement inductions, to create that awareness and encouragement much earlier on. This can be done by including a section on faith and dress code in the theatre induction training which everyone receives. An alternative could be setting up support groups for people of faith with additional dress needs, providing a point of contact for those with queries. These simple changes do require a group effort but if they are put in place, it will go a much longer way that most people anticipate. It will place confidence and strength in these individuals to help them thrive alongside their fellow colleagues, which is the ultimate goal.

If people can come together, and make these changes, Muslim women can definitely have the best of both worlds.



  1. Malik A, Qureshi H, Abdul-Razakq H, Yaqoob Z, Javaid FZ, Esmail F, Wiley E, Latif A. 'I decided not to go into surgery due to dress code': a cross-sectional study within the UK investigating experiences of female Muslim medical health professionals on bare below the elbows (BBE) policy and wearing headscarves (hijabs) in theatre. BMJ Open. 2019 Mar 20;9(3):e019954. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019954. PMID: 30898792; PMCID: PMC6475454.
  2. Isle of Wight NHS Trust - Surgical Scarf Project implemented to support Muslim women looking to build a career in surgery</i>. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from https://www.iow.nhs.uk/news/Surgical-Scarf-Project-implemented-to-support-Muslim-women-looking-to-build-a-career-in-surgery.htm</div>

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