Mar 10, 2015

The Standard You Walk Past....

I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values. And I need everyone of you to support me in achieving this. The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role.

David Morrison, Chief of Army - 13 June 2013

I'd like to preface my post today by saying that, as always, it is based on personal experience and opinion.

It was a pretty ironic piece of news to break just after International Womens Day this year.  A prominent female surgeon was quoted in an ABC interview as offering the following advice to her female trainees:

Her career was ruined by this one guy asking for sex on this night. And, realistically, she would have been much better to have given him a blow job on that night

What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request; the worst thing you can possibly do is to complain to the supervising body because then, as in X's position, you can be sure that you will never be appointed to a major public hospital.

This was in the context of a case in which a female neurosurgeon who was a trainee at the time, won a case against a Melbourne neurosurgeon in relation to his propositioning of her and his subsequent smear campaign about her surgical skills when she dared complain.  The trainee wasn't able to complete her training in her home city and eventually had to move interstate in order to do so.

In the days that have followed Dr McMullin's comments, the internet really has broken.  But unlike the Kardashian definition of breaking, the heated response to Dr McMullin's words have generated intelligent discussion and position statements from the peak medical bodies that govern the medical profession in Australia.  Unfortunately, the paper which broke the story has also received the statements of at least 12 female trainees whose personal experiences echo what Dr X suffered.

So, these are the facts as I understand them from the media and through professional communications that I have received this week.

Where do I stand and should I stand anywhere at all?  Is it wrong that in 2015, I have absorbed this news and counted myself lucky that I wasn't propositioned as a trainee?  That I got my letters based on merit rather than vague innuendo that perhaps some off syllabus activity got me across the line?

While I never experienced harassment, I was told by my male seniors that 'it's the wrong people that are out there having children while you girls are here working'.  I remember the corridors of the hospital of my internship were filled with the hushed and judgemental whispers about a leading female surgeon's secret to 'having it all' - by having a full time roster of nannies and housekeepers to manage her house and ferry her children to care, school and activities.

At the time, I saw those experiences as kind of back handed compliments.  The male senior?  He was from another era and was just telling it as it is.  The whispered rumours about the female surgeon?  Well, isn't it grand that one of our own can run her household celebrity style and still be recognised for her professional achievements?  In not speaking up against these 'tame' examples of gender bias and stereotyping (because I was a lowly trainee just trying to get through the day, get a lunch break and make it to at least a satisfactory final term assessment) did I 'walk past' a standard that I have accepted by default?

In the wake of the current Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children in a multitude of settings and also the revelations about Defence Force cadets, I felt physically sick at the testimonies of what victims had suffered.  But I also managed to explain away in my head how those crimes could have happened in those particular environments.  A bit of denial goes a long way.

But this time, it's in my own backyard.  People who have the respect of the community and their peers are abusing their roles as mentors and supervisors to people who depend on them for career progression.  Their abuse doesn't leave physical scars.  Their victims outwardly seem to be getting on with their lives outside of the abuse.  And their victims haven't spoken out until now.  The same victim and abuser roles being played out again and again.  With a sickening predictability.

I was initially angered by what Dr McMullin said but now, sadly, I see that she is possibly speaking from the place of being an eyewitness to the hierarchy of colleges and societies at work.  I hope that the anger and agitation that her words have evoked will create positive change in the shape of support for victims and accountability for the perpetrators.

As a postscript, if you are reading this and need somewhere to turn to in the NSW public hospital system, look for the EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) at your health service.  It is free, confidential and each session is one on one and conducted by an accredited counsellor.


  1. Fantastic post SSG. It is so terrible that this behaviour still happens and is condoned today.
    (I also have a blog post coming up with the same title!)

  2. I am lucky that I have mainly had very supportive seniors.
    I do not remember my general surgical term as an intern fondly, however.
    But as a young female professional, my authority is not automatic, and I am not always respected.

    One of my highest points as a mentor was finding a surgical intern crying in the toilet. I told her I would not leave until she told me who had made her cry. I asked her where in her job description it stated that she had to put up with bullying from her seniors. I then marched over to the Prof of Surgery to tell him what I found (he is a good bloke). It was sorted out. I hear the intern was grateful.

    Anyone messes with my juniors and their ass is mine.


Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I'm having trouble importing comments from Blogger right now so using Disqus or sending a tweet would be your best bet. X


Related Posts with Thumbnails