Female Surgeons in the Media

Harassment and Bullying of female surgeons

Our College has been the subject of media attention in the past few weeks on the subject of sexual harassment of female surgical trainees. The President, Michael Grigg, responded by confirming the College’s zero tolerance policy of any form of harassment, physical or emotional against trainees, Fellows or College staff.  In addition, an expert panel has been convened to investigate the scope of the issue and suggest ways in which our College can best respond.  It is imperative that, if any individual associated with our College is the victim of bullying or harassment, they should have no fear that reporting such behavior will negatively impact on their training or their employment.  Sadly, this is not currently the case as demonstrated by numerous conversations I have had in the last week.  I met last week with the Secretary of NSW Health, Dr Mary Foley, who has expressed the commitment of the Ministry to work with our College to address this important matter within public hospitals and to support anyone who has suffered such harm. I will keep you informed of our progress in this area.

The recent media coverage of comments made by a Sydney surgeon has brought a very important issue to light.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not condoned in any context.

While acknowledging that this is an issue in any workplace, I would hope that it is not as prevalent as the surgeon in question reports it to be. The feedback I have had from hundreds of trainees, both male and female, is that our profession treats its colleagues in a respectful and collegiate manner. However, there is always a risk that these sensitive issues are under-reported for fear of persecution. If this is the case, we need to know about it.

RACSTA provides you with a few different avenues to pursue should you feel you are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

1. End of term survey – our most recent survey indicated to us that a very small percentage of trainees were subjected to adverse working conditions (not necessarily sexual harassment). These trainees indicated to us that they were willing to be contacted to resolve these issues. All issues were resolved without complaint. You will receive the survey in the next week.

2. Direct contact with RACSTA chair – all concerns come directly to me and are addressed with priority along with Ruth Mitchell, our Support and Advocacy chair

The past 48 hours have been met by the RACSTA board with a mixture of disgust, dismay and embarrassment. Ours is a noble profession. We work hard and we study hard. Our families often suffer because of our dedication to our work. I have tremendous pride in my job and my colleagues. Anything that puts a mark on our professional standing is deserving of our full attention. If this type of behavior persists in our workplace, we will work our hardest to stamp it out.

The advice given to trainees by the published surgeon to tolerate certain behavior in order to progress their career, is wildly off the mark. It’s not alright. We live in an age of equal rights and entitlement. Included in those rights is the right to thrive in your chosen career without discrimination, harassment or bullying and without fear of retribution should one speak out.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Grant Fraser-Kirk

Chair, RACS Trainees’ Association