49% of RACS Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates experience discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment – so what now? Expert Advisory Group releases final report

Release of the Expert Advisory Group Final Report

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Expert Advisory Group (EAG) released its final report on discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment this week. The final report includes some minor amendments and points of clarification, as guided by feedback on the draft report released on September 10.

RACS EAG final reportThe term of the EAG ended on 21st September.

EAG Chair, the Hon Rob Knowles AO said “The College has shown courage and commitment in establishing the EAG and in accepting in full the findings and recommendations of the draft report.” He also said “As individuals, we will watch with interest at the College, the Specialty Societies, the Training Boards, as well as Fellows, Trainees and International Medical Graduates, work effectively together and with others in the health sector to achieve lashing change.”

RACS President Professor David Watters OBE said “”The EAG Report is an important historical milestone for this College – it presents us with a challenge to act, which we will do decisively.” Professor Watters also said, “We know we will be judged on our ability to make the profound changes needed to make discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in the practice of surgery problems of the past.”

Release of the Expert Advisory Group Draft Report

The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) draft report to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) was dated 8th September 2015. It revealed a damning report card on discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment as revealed by the EAG consultations and survey. Following is a screenshot from the report.

RACS Expert Advisory Group draft report

The EAG draft report also made reference to the following:

  • bullying of surgical traineesDiscrimination was most commonly racial or cultural, followed by sexual, was most commonly reported by international medical graduates and was effectively resolved in 12% of cases.
  • Bullying was found to be central to the culture of surgery, with the worse cases deliberately orchestrated and perpetrated by a small number of people abusing their institutional positions of power.
  • Sexual harassment was reportedly rarely “called out” due to the gender imbalance in surgery, while sexism was more broadly commonplace.

Professor David Watters, President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons appeared in the RACS video RACS apologises for discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment, which was released on 9th September 2015. The opening lines were “Everyone has a right to be treated with respect and to train and work without being subjected to discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment. Sadly, this is not the experience of all surgeons, surgical trainees and international medical graduates.”

Professor Watters apologized to anyone who has experienced discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment and acknowledged that the RACS needs to earn trust by fairly and effectively dealing with these behaviours. He committed to developing an action plan that addressed the issues raised in the draft EAG report.

 

A number of associations and hospital and health care organisations were quick to release statements of support and endorsement following the release of the RACS EAG draft report. These included the Australian Medical Association, the Urology Society of Australia and New Zealand, St Vincent’s Health Australia, the Medical Council of New Zealand, St John of God Healthcare, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Australian Medical Board, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, The Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators and the New Zealand Health Quality and Safety Commission.

In an article published by Australian Doctor on 10th September 2015, Rob Knowles, Chair of the RACS EAG, described the draft report findings a shocking. He said “I think every college with responsibilities for selection, training and accrediting specialties should look at their role and whether or not their profession would benefit from undertaking a similar exercise.”

In the mainstream media in the lead up to the release of the draft report was a comment from well known neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who said that the culture of bullying in surgery went right to the top, and destroying the lives of doctors and their families in its path. The ABC quoted Dr Teo “There are unfortunately people that I know who are very guilty of bullying and discrimination, holding positions of authority in those bodies like the College of Surgeons and Hospital Medical advisory boards and expert advisory boards and associations.” He believes that the AHPRA complaint process is part of the problem as it “jumps on people’s potentially vexatious claims”, taking them all seriously without first investigating them.

The ABC also ran a story following up claims made by Dr Imogen Ibbett in their Four Corners report At Their Mercy which aired in May 2015. Dr Ibbett claimed that she had been bullied by Dr Helen Maroulis during her neurosurgical training at Monash Medical Centre. Dr Maroulis no longer works at Monash Medical Centre. According to the ABC report, the evidence of bullying by Dr Maroulis was so serious that they considered removing Monash Medical Centre’s accreditation to train neurosurgeons, judging that there had been a time when the unit had been unsafe for trainees. The centre assured the Board that new procedures meant that this type of behaviour would not occur again.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association also ran a panel at its National Leadership Development Seminar in held in Canberra on September 14. The panellists included Dr Gabrielle McMullin (infamous for suggesting that female surgical trainees were better to give into sexual advances in the workplace), Mr James Lawler (AMSA president), Alice Matthews (ABC journalist) and Dr John Quinn (RACS Surgical Affairs Director).

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Image 1: Ambro – freedigitalphotos.net
Image 2: stock images – freedigitalphotos.net

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