Friday, February 23, 2024

Female surgeons in Boston highlight the limitations of ‘Doctor Barbies’ – and suggest changes


Mattel’s depictions of medical professionals paint an inaccurate picture of the field, the doctors wrote.

Dolls created by Jessica Hall and Jordan Demasi, which some local doctors say are more accurate than the medical Barbies currently available. Courtesy photo

Four female surgeons at Newton-Wellesley Hospital were recently asked whether current Barbie dolls depicting medical careers were accurate and current representations of women in medicine. Guess what? This was not the case.

That’s what surgeons say in “This Barbie is a Surgeon,” published in December in the British Medical Journal in response to a study previously written by Katherine Klamer of the Indiana University School of Medicine. In this article, Dr. Cornelia Griggs, Dr. Sophia McKinley, Dr. Erika Rangel, and Dr. Sareh Parangi identify major gaps in Barbie’s portrayal of the medical field.

“As surgeons in decidedly male-dominated fields, we support Klamer’s conclusion that Barbies should represent a more diverse field of medical and scientific professions and that safety comes before fashion,” the doctors wrote. the Boston area.

The models

Barbie dolls have long been a hit among children, long before the release of the hit movie “Barbie” last summer. And while Mattel has made efforts toward diversity and inclusion — the first “Doctor Barbie” debuted in 1973 — many professionals in male-dominated fields feel something is still missing.

There are so many medical specialties that Dr. Parangi, an endocrine surgeon and chairman of surgery at Newton-Wellesley, believes are missing from Barbie’s list.

Newton-Wellesley general surgeons Dr. Sheila Partridge and Dr. Susana Wishnia were the “models” for the dolls.

Parangi highlights two homemade Barbie dolls created in 2021 by two colleagues – Jessica Hall and Jordan Demasi – modeled after general surgeons Dr Sheila Partridge and Dr Susana Wishnia. In this patient-focused space, Dr. Parangi felt he received positive feedback from doctors and patients.

“Strangely, Mattel couldn’t find a surgeon Barbie. But look, our staff members came up with one right here in our clinic, modeled on our surgeons,” Dr. Parangi told

The initial study

That’s not to say Barbie doesn’t have medical dolls. Since that first in 1973, an entire section of the Barbie line has been dedicated to professionals in the medical field. But if you look, you’ll find a marine biologist in a swimsuit, a pediatrician with infant accessories, blue-haired scientists, and various playsets of clinicians and nurses – but no surgeons.

Additionally, the study found that 98% of the dolls came with stethoscopes, but only 4% came with face masks, and that the dolls’ medical accessories were generally “inadequate for standard practice.” Additionally, many medical dolls wear high heels with legs exposed and hair down.

According to a news release from Newton-Wellesley Hospital, local doctors believe this lack of realism reflects current attitudes toward women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. In particular, Dr. Parangi mentions her own position as chair of the surgical department. Not only is it difficult to pursue surgery, but it is even more difficult to obtain a leadership position.

According to Dr. Parangi, more than half of medical students are women. But as each year of medical school passes, fewer and fewer of these women choose a surgical path. Dr Parangi believes these are signals to women that surgery is taking too long.

“You can’t have children, you can’t start a family, it’s too difficult for your family life,” Dr Parangi echoed. These false narratives have reduced the number of women in the surgical field, she says.


Barbies can represent how a child views their future possibilities.

“You can’t be something you can’t see,” Dr. Rangel, a gastrointestinal surgeon and surgical intensivist, told

The two surgeons – Dr. Rangel and Dr. Parangi – hope that more accurate depictions of medicine will allow young girls to see their futures clearly.

“We’re just striving to make sure that all girls are looking at STEM fields in a way that says, ‘These are open to you,’” Dr. Parangi said.

Dr. Rangel agreed, saying, “It’s really an opportunity to break those gender patterns at a young age.” »

Whether this Barbie is a surgeon, veterinarian or dentist, both women agree that Barbies are not just toys. And with a team made up of fellow doctors and paramedical professionals, Dr. Parangi says she is willing to pursue this project with Mattel.

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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