OPINION: "Please don't be worried that young female surgeons are lining up to give their bosses blow-jobs."

Australia, please don’t be worrying that young female surgeons-in-training are lining up to give their bosses blow jobs.

Last week, Dr Gabrielle McMullin told the ABC she advises sexually propositioned trainees that “the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply”.

In all the predictable outrage, a glaring fact has been overlooked.  The good doctor is a woman with brains big enough to succeed in medicine’s most competitive sphere.  She wasn’t really telling trainees to sleep with their boss.  Rather, she was cleverly and rather deliberately, exposing a weeping, septic, sexist sore pulsating within her profession.

Background story: Female surgeon: giving in to sexual advances is better for your career.

Here’s another reality that’s less icky. The trainees she was talking about are also incredibly intelligent.  Most know their esteemed colleague wasn’t pimping them, she was fighting for them.  They are fist-pumping the air right now and thanking her for revealing their ugly reality.

If you somehow missed the mayhem, Dr McMullin told the ABC the story of a trainee harassed by her neurosurgeon boss. ‘Caroline’ complained and won the case but her career was damaged. In saying women were better off giving in to harassment than complaining, McMullin set out to shock.

Let me help her. Caroline’s upheld complaint involved the surgeon pulling out his erect penis, touching her breast and kissing her.


That story is public. Here are some that are not.

I spoke to a trainee whose supervisor invited her to ‘get under the desk and suck my cock’, another had a boss say ‘why don’t we go and have sex’, a third, while upset, was comforted with the words ‘you need a good case of cock’.  I even spoke to one woman who was berated for being an ‘entitled bitch’ while she was operating. Yes, she was being abused while her hands were inside someone’s unconscious, vulnerable body. Her crime? Coming back from maternity leave. That’s not sexual harassment, that’s just discrimination, but there’s definitely a pattern here.

The latest: More female doctors speak of sex harassment in Australian hospitals.

Cleary there’s no point doing a Tony Abbott and attacking the messenger. Dr McMullin was pointing out that we don’t hear these stories because complaining often brings punishment upon the trainees.  She was telling society that the system probably wont deliver justice.

Listen: Dr Gabrielle McMullin talks about sexual harassment in the medical profession. (Post continues after audio):

Since the story went public, many male surgeons are furious.  The College of Surgeons has been emailing female trainees telling them there are complaint procedures in place and that they are supported. But, as one trainee bluntly states,’ policy is not enough, it doesn’t protect those who complain from payback’.


As a trainee told Mamamia, the ‘system involves assessments and you can be failed at any time. You have to be careful’.

So careful in fact, that the women we spoke to don’t want to use their names. Surgical Medicine is still a very male-dominated profession. Only eight per cent of surgeons are women and the men are still usually in the senior positions. It’s impossible to keep complaints anonymous.

One trainee who spoke to Mamamia came from another organisation that’s male-dominated and has appalling cases of harassment. She says it’s actually easier to expose harassment in the military, as the complaint procedures are clearer, fairer and more rigorous.  All recruits are sat down and told their obligations.  Senior surgeons are not.

It’s also hard for trainees to complain because they know they are taking on giants. As a doctor posing a question on Q & A on Monday night stated, it seems some surgeons feel part of a ‘secret elite’, entitled and above the law.

I have met a few male surgeons who almost seem to think they are gods.  In a way they are – they restore shattered bodies, they save lives, they extend existence. Perhaps this power can go to their heads. Most are brilliant yet it seems some are lacking emotional intelligence.


I had a relative in hospital last year and was horrified by one senior surgeon’s condescending, brisk and dismissive bedside manner.

Want more? The seven best moments from the night women took over QandA.

I’m not saying he was typical. I’ve met kind, considerate and fabulous surgeons who are true heroes.  They do work that almost brings me to my knees in gratitude and wonder.

The Women in Surgery committee that is part of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons says complaint processes are robust and clear. The AMA has urged trainees to come forward.  A Senior Doctor I spoke to today says she feels there has been massive change in the last 10 years.  She has encouraged and assisted trainees to make complaints and seen two senior male doctors forced to retire.

There is real, ongoing work being done to support female trainees in surgery.  By speaking out, Dr McMullin was trying to guarantee it goes on. By exposing the wound she’s hoping to get it treated.

I just hope it gets surgery and not a cover-up bandage.


“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as extraordinarily arrogant…and demeaning as I did amongst these men.”  Sarah on surgeons and the “God Complex”  – on this week’s podcast.