Following surgeon Dr. Gabrielle McMullin’s comments about the bullying and sexual harassment culture in Australian hospitals, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) announced the establishment of an expert advisory group to deal with these concerns.
McMullin’s comments were met with controversy and a subsequent ban from having any contact with her medical students after she implied that due to the nature of women in hospitals, more often than not, it is safer to comply rather than complain.
Vascular surgeon and co-author of Pathways to Gender Equality –The Role of Merit and Quotas, McMullin said at the launch of her book on Friday that there was a serious level of sexual harassment in hospitals and that it was easier to give in than to pursue perpetrators.
She told the ABC: “What I tell my trainees is that if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request.”
She told the story of Caroline, a neurosurgical trainee whose career was nearly destroyed because of sexual harassment by her supervisor. The complaint against the supervisor was eventually upheld but Caroline’s punishment continues because she has been unable to get work at a public hospital.
McMullin’s message may be shocking, but it gives an insight into the gender divide that is being played out even in our hospitals.
McMullin has strongly been trying to fight for rights for women in the workplace, she has written emails, spoken out about numbers of incidents she has witnessed or has been involved in, but all of these points have been met with no action or clueless responses.
The chair of the panel, former Victorian health minister and RACS board member Rob Knowles, said he was already aware of criticism that the college had not been addressing other allegations of bullying and harassment.
“What this has brought to a head is that there are a number of issues that the college does need to address, and I think the establishment of the working party is showing that the college is genuine in trying to make sure those issues are addressed,” he said.
But he conceded cultural change was not something that could be achieved overnight.
“I think the leadership of the college is very clear that they understand this is an issue that’s not going to go away, that it does need to be addressed in a systematic way that does provide confidence, not just to those in the profession but to the broader community,” he said.
The panel’s deputy chair, former Victorian equal opportunity commissioner Dr Helen Szoke, said the panel will look at policies and procedures as well as gender balance.
“Many of the indicators around gender equality have not been moving ahead with the rapidity that you would expect for a reasonably wealthy western democratic country, so that suggests there are systemic barriers, that there are institutional practises and it shouldn’t be left up to individuals to change systems,” she said.
Plastic Surgeon uses Pornographic Images, Degrades Women’s Bodies in Controversial Presentation in Melbourne
Ironically, hours after Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner stated the highly graphic presentation may constitute sexual harassment, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ said it had no direct involvement with the material.
As revealed by the Herald Sun, as the RACS comes under fire following Dr. McMullin’s claims, the college trainee plastic surgeons were required to attend a presentation from visiting Indian surgeon Dr. Rakesh Kalra in which depicted degrading content concerning the appearance of female’s genitalia.
Former Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said she received several complaints about the presentation following the event, and fears such actions further entrenched sexism in a new generation of trainees.
“It is indicative of the sexism that pervades some sections of the medical industry,” she said.
“It is not illegal, but it is degrading and, I believe, unethical.”
Another senior female practitioner said attendees were sickened by the material but were too scared of reprisals from senior industry figures to complain.
“Is it any wonder we’ve got issues happening with sexual harassment when trainees are taught using this sort of material?” she said.
“If this was a RACS-approved education event then they need to hang their heads in shame.”
Dr Kalra’s Vaginal Rejuvenation in Seven Surgical Steps presentation included images of a woman performing a sex act with a glass of beer, with the caption: “It is being put to a variety of uses.”
Another image shows a naked woman standing on her head with the caption: “Today, the vagina is being looked at from all angles.”
And pictures of two naked woman openly criticise one’s appearance, stating that while one vagina is “pleasing” the others is “not so pleasing”.
A following slide shows close up of the womens’ crutch, stating: “Appreciate the difference a little closer.”
Other slides talked of women’s ‘hymen repair’ for the purpose of being “a special gift to husband’s on their wedding night” and for “women marrying again”.
The RACS also refused to comment about the appropriateness of the presentation or potential impact on its trainees.
The College, which is charged with training and registering Australia’s surgeons, instead reinforcing that it had established a high-powered Expert Advisory Group to deal with concerns of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the health sector.
The Herald Sun has been unable to contact Dr Kalra.
Source: Herald Sun