A damning report has revealed that half of Australia's surgeons have encountered bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment – made possible by a universal fear of speaking out.
The research was conducted by an expert advisory group who were appointed by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).
The ABC reported that the RACS commissioned the report after senior surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin alleged that complaining about harassment could ruin a trainee's career.
Findings from the report included anecdotal evidence from surgeons who had been expected to provide sexual favours in return for tutoring, as well as intimidation and public humiliation.
Rob Knowles, head of the expert advisory group, said that the findings were shocking.
“I was surprised and disturbed at the depth and the entrenched nature of bullying and harassment both across the profession and the health care system generally,” he said.
According to the report, bullying was the most commonly encountered intimidation tactic, with almost 40% of surgical fellows, trainees and international medical graduates reporting that they had encountered it.
Just under 20% of surgeons reported discrimination and workplace harassment, while 7% said they had experienced sexual harassment.
The report also suggested that the most predominant form of discrimination was based on culture, with one respondent stating: “they want you out of the country or they want you dead”.
Other statements made by respondents included:
- “I was expected to provide sexual favours in his consulting rooms in return for tutorship.”
- “Throughout the course of my training, I have been sworn at and criticised.”
- “I was subject to belittling, intimidation and public humiliation.”
He also promised to have come up with an action plan by November to tackle the issue, which will include increasing transparency and external scrutiny of the college, as well as making it safe for people to make complaints.
“The individuals who shared their stories have described the devastating impact this has had on their personal and professional lives,” he said.
“As president of the college, on behalf of all fellows, trainees and international medical graduates, I apologise.”
The college admitted it had not done enough to help those who were victimised.
“I apologise to every one of you who has suffered discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment by surgeons,” Watters continued.
“I also apologise to all other health workers on whom surgeons have inflicted these behaviours.”
Among the findings were claims that pregnant women faced bias, with a number of female surgeons told to keep their pregnancies secret for as long as hospital.
“I had to make up my maternity leave when I returned by doing all the on-call roster, nobody else taking any other type of leave had to do this,” said one surgeon.
Another claimed that she was required to work 30-hour shifts during the last weeks of her pregnancy.
One woman was told that she would “only be considered for a job if I had my tubes tied”.
Researchers found that the main factor standing in the way of victims taking action was the impact that doing so would have on future career options.
The report said that those being bullied or harassed lacked faith in the trustworthiness of the complaint handlers, saying that the people responsible for complaints were often the perpetrators.
“Nothing is anonymous in medicine,” said one person. “Even filling in this questionnaire is extremely uncomfortable.”
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