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Culture Of Sexism Rife In Australian Medical Schools, Says Inquiry

One clinician reportedly asked his class, "Aren't women supposed to be smart nowadays? Isn't that why we're letting them in?"

A Senate inquiry has exposed the horrific extent to which sexism is rife in Australian medical schools, and how it is preventing women from reporting harassment for fear of ‘blocking their career’.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Australian Medical Students’ Associate gave evidence for the inquiry, revealing that up to half of all medical students believe mistreatment is necessary to their learning.

Several unnerving stories emerged from the inquiry, including the story of one male surgeon who interrupted a more junior woman’s research presentation to comment, “My, my, my, haven’t they let you out of the kitchen a lot this month”. This took place in front of a large audience.

Another male doctor would specifically ask the female students in his classroom questions about topics they hadn’t yet covered, and when they didn’t answer correctly, he once said: “Aren’t women supposed to be smart nowadays? Isn’t that why we’re letting them in?”

Sexual harassment had also occurred, with one female student being told that the way she performed surgery was ‘sexy’, with a senior male colleague stroking her back when she left the surgery.

The president of the Australian Medical Students Association, Elise Buisson, told the inquiry that there was a particularly bad problem with students believing that abuse was ‘beneficial’ to their learning. She also explained that there was a fear that if they did something wrong or got on someone’s bad side, it could affect their career.

“Incidences of sabotaging students’ careers … are quite common,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.

She told the story of a student overhearing senior college members discussing how they picked candidates. They reportedly said, “We all know who the real referees are, they’re the people we call who we know.”

“That’s really reflective of how it works in medicine,” Ms Buisson said. “If you’ve upset somebody, [whether] because they don’t like you or because you’re actually not a good medical student, they can prevent you from progressing your career.”

While a sexual harassment investigation into the Royal Australian College Of Surgeons last year revealed damning results and resulted in a public apology from the president, Professor David Watters, other colleges have not undergone investigation. As a result, there are significant problems that have not changed.

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