Monday, September 14, 2015

Action Must Speak Louder Than Words

Medical Oncologist, Dr Ranjana Srivastava wrote on the subject of “how doctors treat doctors may be medicine's secret shame “ in the Guardian newspaper back in February 2015. About a month later, vascular surgeon Dr Gabrielle McMullin used a book launch speech to expose the problems of sexual harassment in the surgical profession.  She highlighted a story of where a neurosurgical trainee had refused sexual advances and subsequent to launching a formal complaint, her career was ruined. Her statement that  she would have been much better to have given him a blow job” made national headlines in Australia.  This opened a can of worms and numerous stories suggesting a toxic culture of bullying, harassment and sexual discrimination (BDSH) were aired.  Under pressure, the Royal Australian College of Surgeons acted swiftly and appointed an independent Expert Advisory Group to investigate and to make recommendations.  Six months later, the draft report of the EAG  was published and results were “quite frankly shocking” as in the words of the President of the RACS.  The report was released in conjunction with a formal humbling RACS apology that has been uploaded to YouTube.

Prior to the release of the report, I had noticed a lot of discussion on social media and in real life on how the prevalence of bullying, harassment and sexual discrimination was overblown and stated to be no more so than in any other profession. Whilst the EAG Report makes clear that these assertions are absolutely wrong and that there is a special case for surgery that requires serious reflection and action.

On this basis, I then tweeted the following:- 

I followed the above tweet with the following:-

The tweet above generated interest and that evening was aired on the Lateline news program on ABC television.  This tweet does not suggest in any way that individuals with all of these attributes are part of the bullying and harrassment culture but think about it; they are the ones who are least likely to be subjected to it or to see it. If they chose to, they had the best opportunity to be untouchable.

As expected there is some criticism of the EAG Report as well as to my own comments.  The following tweets are more than likely to represent the tip of an iceberg for those who share similar thoughts. It is obvious that the vast majority in this camp have gone to ground since the release of the report but they will be observing closely and we can only hope that time will bring about attitudinal change.  I commend these commentators for publicly sharing their thoughts as it informs those of us who embrace the report as to the battles that lie ahead.

Some of the worst perpetrators of BDSH continue to be in roles of significant power.  We all know who they are and even subsequent to the EAG report, there will be reluctance to report or expose them.  How the RACS intends to deal with these perpetrators and exactly how they propose to change the toxic culture that exists within surgery is the major challenge ahead?  Whilst the RACS has worn the brunt of criticism for BDSH in surgery, hospital administrators have got away scot free.  They are equally, if not more, responsible for the reasons we have come to where we are now.  We eagerly await the final report of the EAG and detail of the proposed path forward.


Those of you who have read this piece may also be interested on this subsequent piece about elections to the RACS Council.

1 comment:

  1. Whilst your profiling may identify a sub group, BDSH is so prevalent that it goes over all borders. Positive affirmation against BDSH is needed by all, whether they are aware of it or not. Education regarding standards for workplace relations would be a good step. We can't move forward unless the entire surgical group embraces the standard