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More women to be promoted in surgery to overhaul toxic sex-for-training culture | One Herald
Home / Health / More women to be promoted in surgery to overhaul toxic sex-for-training culture

More women to be promoted in surgery to overhaul toxic sex-for-training culture


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Apology over ‘toxic culture’ among surgeons

After a survey finds nearly half of all surgeons have experienced discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment, RACS President apologises for the ‘devastating impact’ on surgeons and trainees.

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More female surgeons will be promoted and bullies in the profession will be “called out” as the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons tries to overhaul its reputation for being an “Anglo-Saxon boys club” where sex can be traded for training.

On Monday, president of the college David Watters said around 50 complaints about surgeons had been filed this year, after an independent review found bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment were rife within its ranks.  

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has vowed to crack down on bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has vowed to crack down on bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment. Photo: Anna Bizon

Professor Watters said the complaints were being examined by legal experts and counsellors hired by the college. He was not aware of any sanctions yet imposed by the college on perpetrators, but said a new action plan published on Monday would strengthen complaints processes to ensure they were held accountable.

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“We will need to work hard to close the gap between where we are now and where we want to be,” he said.

“We must do some things differently, deal with the behaviours we have said we will not tolerate and champion those that will help build a respectful, collaborative culture.”

In a 23-page blueprint, the college has committed to introducing a “diversity plan” and new targets for women in leadership positions, along with scrutiny of how many females apply for surgical training and stay in it.

The college will also explore the introduction of more flexible part-time training – an option more commonly offered by other specialist training colleges, particularly the Royal Australasian College for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.  

The plan also vowed to introduce:

  • Targeted, compulsory training for surgeons in discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.  
  • Training in how to give effective performance feedback and safe complaints mechanisms for trainees.
  • Independent reviews of trainees placed on probation to ensure they are not being unfairly targeted or bullied.
  • An independent ombudsman to provide external scrutiny and accountability.
  • More communication with hospitals, universities, health departments, governments and regulators.
  • A review of assessment processes for international medical graduates and processes to ensure surgical appointments are merit based.
  • Annual reporting of all complaints in a de-identified manner and another survey of trainees and fellows about bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment in five years.

The action plan comes after complaints the college is an “Anglo-Saxon old boys’ club” where senior surgeons “eat their young” and women are frequently discriminated against and sexually harassed.   

In response to such claims, many of which have been aired in Fairfax Media, the college appointed an independent expert advisory group.The review found that although three in five trainees felt they had been bullied, making complaints was considered “career suicide”.

Women trainees and junior surgeons reported feeling obliged to give their supervisors sexual favours to keep their jobs. One woman reported that she had to “provide sexual favours in [her supervisor’s] consulting rooms in return for tutorship”.

 



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