Bullying in medicine exposed in senate inquiry

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MEDICAL students are so accustomed to bullying and sex discrimination, some don’t even see it as a problem, a representative for Australia’s 17,000 future medical professionals has said.

Fresh from relaying horror stories from medical colleges and hospital rounds to shocked Senators, Australian Medical Students Association president Elise Buisson shared with news.com.au some of the stories that made their jaws drop.

The 24-year-old student on Tuesday gave evidence to a Senate committee conducting an inquiry into the medical complaints process, particularly focusing on the prevalence of bullying and harassment in Australias medical profession.

Referring to research she presented, as well as her own experience, Ms Buisson told the committee of the ingrained culture of bullying.

She told of cases of a junior female student being mocked by a male surgeon during a research presentation, who said: My, my, my, havent they let you out of the kitchen a lot this month.

She presented evidence that students, particularly female students, had been screamed at and belittled by senior doctors in front of colleagues and even patients.

Ms Buisson also said it was common for senior doctors to sabotage students careers if they didnt succumb to their bullying ways, or show respect to senior figures in the medical community, regardless of the treatment they received from them.

While stories of sexism and intense bullying left the committee just looking at me with an open mouth, Ms Buisson said the most shocking stories to her were those of acceptance of ingrained bullying culture.

Most surprising for me was the attitudes displayed by a couple of respondents towards bullying, particular individuals just said bullying wasnt a problem, she said.

Ms Buisson was taken aback by a statement from one respondent who said bullying was unsolvable in medicine.

It is natural for bullying to exist. Unfortunately, people who are weak minded find anything that goes against them or anything that is a form of hardship as being bullying, the respondent said.

If you want to solve bullying, fix people that are getting bullied. No matter what, bullying will always exist in medicine.

Ms Buisson said acceptance of bullying was a major issue in medical education. She said she hadnt been bullied herself, but had certainly witnessed it in situations where senior doctors and younger students were involved, including cases of shocking sex discrimination against young women.

I think it starts early on but gradually increases, she said.

When youre a 19-year-old student coming into medicine, you look up to doctors thinking theyre incredible, and if you see every now and then behaviour that is not on, but that no one does anything about, you just kind of accept thats how things are. You just kind of adapt to that being the status quo.

Following the exposure of sexual harassment perpetrated by Australian surgeons which made headlines last year, Ms Buisson said there had been some cultural change mainly within the college of surgeons, but that more needed to be done.

Its good that this issue in the wider medical community is getting attention now, because while there was some change, I think people perceived it as a surgical problem, but its bigger than that, she said.

I think the primary point to come back to is the hierarchy in the medical profession and how we retain it in a positive way, not a medical one.

The parliamentary committee is due to table its findings from Tuesdays hearing later this month.