Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Ethnic minority staff and patients

The ethnicity of doctors in photos online

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 26 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4370
  1. Sati Heer-Stavert, general practitioner
  1. Goodrest Croft Surgery, Birmingham B14 4JU, UK
  1. heerstavert{at}

I look forward to The BMJ’s special issue on the theme of ethnic minority staff and patients,1 in particular further information about complaints against NHS staff, which can be arbitrary and dependent on bias (conscious or not).

A cursory look at the results of an internet image search for the term “doctor” shows a disparity between expectation and reality. Of the first 10 results, everyone seems to be from a white background.

Of course, we must bear in mind that the image search is likely to include a high proportion of stock images, for which advertising companies use models to portray doctors. Nevertheless, such imagery is pervasive throughout our society, whether it is online, on television, or in advertising.

Is it surprising that patients’ preconceived ideas of what a doctor should look like are sometimes very different from their actual experience? Do mismatches between expectation and reality increase the likelihood of a complaint?

Perhaps even more pernicious is the effect that such imagery could be having on potential medical school applicants, who might think that they have to conform to such stereotypes to gain access to the club and might not bother applying at all.