A medical group apologised to surgeons and trainees in Australia and New Zealand after a report found that almost half had suffered discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment from senior surgeons.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, which represents 6,000 surgeons and 1,300 trainees in the two countries, commissioned the report and promised to adopt its recommendations for fundamental reform.
“This behaviour has been too long tolerated and has compromised the personal and professional lives of many in the health workforce,” college president Prof David Watters said in a statement.
The investigation followed Sydney vascular surgeon Gabrielle McMullin’s controversial media interviews in March in which she said female trainee doctors should just give into requests for sexual favours because reporting sexual harassment to authorities would destroy their careers.
Following the publication of the report, McMullin warned that it will be difficult to fix the problem.
McMullin said “a small group of very powerful men at the top” were responsible for fostering a bullying culture among surgeons and would be “rolling their eyes at the report”.
The report found that 49% of surgeons and trainees, including foreign medical graduates working in the male-dominated Australian and New Zealand surgical systems, complained of being subjected to discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.
Of these, 19% reported workplace harassment, 18% discrimination and 7% sexual harassment.
Younger surgeons and trainees were more likely to complain of bullying than older surgeons.
The report found that an “important gap” in the statistics were doctors who had quit surgical training in recent years.
These doctors had not been interviewed for the report.
The report also found that 71% of hospitals reported discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment among their staff.
Senior surgeons were the main culprits, the report said.
“There was general consensus that the worst cases were deliberately orchestrated and perpetuated by a small number people who abused their institutional positions of power,” the report said.
Comments by doctors surveyed included “... the ultimate penalty for a harassed female who speaks out is being unable to find employment in Australia.”
The report recommended cultural change and sanctions against those responsible for discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.
It also recommended changes to surgical education and independent scrutiny of complaints.
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