More female doctors speak of sex harassment in Australian hospitals.

A storm is brewing in Australia’s medical profession, as more female doctors back claims that sexual harassment in hospitals is rife.

Last week Dr Gabrielle McMullin, a vascular surgeon and co-author of Pathways to Gender Equality, drew criticism when she claimed at her book launch that sexual harrassment was rife in her profession.

Speaking to the ABC after the Sydney event, she elaborated on her point by telling the story of a neurosurgical trainee.

The young woman, “Caroline”, reported a sexual assault by a senior surgeon — and as a result, was never again able to find work in a public hospital, Dr McMullen said.

“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,” Dr McMullin told ABC’s AM program.

“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.”

Dr. McMullen tells her trainees to ‘comply’ with sexual requests from doctors.

The anecdote provoked controversy across the country — and now, more female doctors have come forward to back Dr McMullin’s claims about the prevalence of harassment in the profession. It’s hoped that these claims will force those in powerful to do more to help victims and prevent assaults from occurring the first place.

One young doctor, Dr Ashleigh Witt, defended Dr McMullin as “simply the messenger” of the troubling message.


“The problem here is a system where reporting sexual harassment is vehemently discouraged,” Dr Witt wrote in a blog post. “Let’s not kid ourselves that Caroline’s story is an isolated case… Keep your mouth shut and you’ll be fine (is) medicine’s secret catchphrase.”

Shia LaBeouf’s sexual assault: “We don’t get to choose which victims we support.”

Dr Witt also questioned whether doctors knew that sexual harrassment doesn’t just include rape, but “encompasses so much more than unwanted physical touching.”

“(S)exual harassment is every time you call me ‘blondie’ or ‘barbie’, every time you make a joke about my choice to wear a skirt not pants, every time you comment on my appearance rather than my skillset, every time you call me a ‘lady doctor’ instead of a ‘doctor’,” she said.

Dr Witt. (Photo: Facebook.)

Yet another female doctor published an anonymous open letter to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons saying that her gender defined her entire surgical career.

“As a senior surgeon now, I can definitively state that my gender has not only influenced my career, but in fact has defined it,” she wrote, in the letter published in The Age.

“It was defined when I was denied operating sessions by my unit head because my colleague had ‘a wife and child to support’. It is defined every time I am told that I should just ‘concentrate on my children rather than worry about developing a private practice’. It is defined in the quick “my dear” here and the comment about quotas and tokenism there.”

“Other friends with similar experiences of male members of their team, and then having to awkwardly work with them after declining their advances,” one female doctor told Mamamia.

Another doctor from Melbourne told Mamamia that while she hadn’t been harassed in her chosen field of pediatrics, she’d heard stories of such harassment from others “mostly in the surgical field.”

The 25-year-old woman, who chose not to be named, said she’d witnessed incidences of sexism including “orthopedic surgeons joking that ‘the kitchen is talking’ when a female registrar was saying something, or commenting… on the fact that (a trainee) didn’t wear makeup that day.”

Here’s a funny prank! Actually no. That’s sexual harrassment, chump.

“Or for example the College of Surgeons created a support group titled ‘wives and girlfriends of surgical trainees’ rather than ‘partners of trainees’,” she added.

Another doctor told Mamamia she had “difficulty” as a medical intern in Adelaide when a surgeon showed “more than an educational interest in time spent with me, to the point of texting me in the evenings and inviting me to his place under the guise of (professional) help”.

The 28-year-old woman, who also asked not to be named, added that she had “other friends with similar experiences of male members of their team, and then having to awkwardly work with them after declining their advances.”

But Kate Drummond, chair of the Women in Surgery committee at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, disputes Dr McMullin’s claims, saying the profession has come a long way in taking assault and harassment seriously.


“I don’t think that surgery is any more rife in these problems than any other professional area or area of work in public or private life,” she told the ABC.

‘Stop calling it sexual harrassment. Sometimes it’s just banter.’

“(T)here are clear workplace processes to deal with these kinds of problems,” she said. “There are parallel processes that we would encourage people to use, and also to take the support of people like those of us in the Women in Surgery committee — we’re very happy to strongly support these people.”

Ms Drummond added that there had been than one sexual harassment complaint per year to the Women in Surgery committee.

While she said she herself had once been a victim, she insisted that workplace practices and laws had adequately changed since then.

“I think once in 1992, I was subject to that, for a brief period … it was not particularly serious but it was definitely there,” she told the ABC.

“It does happen, no-one is denying that it happens. (But) the advice that to speak out is a career-ending move is I think incorrect.”

Have you experienced harassment at work? Do you think harassment or sexism is rife in the medical profession? Do you think enough is being done about it?