Doctors cry sexual harassment

Juniors accuse senior physicians of repeated assault

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 12, 2019

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A number of the island's junior doctors have indicated that not only must they battle resource shortages, but they have had to endure sexual harassment from their seniors.

The allegations have come from junior doctors interviewed by the Jamaica Observer in May, all of whom have either experienced or know a colleague who has been sexually harassed or assaulted. They addressed the matter on condition of anonymity.

The junior doctors are also alleging victimisation at the hands of the senior doctors who, they said, are keen on maintaining a culture of abuse.

“It's well known in the medical community here that many of the senior doctors, they take advantage of their junior doctors here. They might do [to others] as they did to me — there's verbal abuse. This might be straying a bit, but even to the point of things like sexual harassment. This is very rampant in the medical community, but they like to be hush, hush about it,” a female junior doctor alleged.

“A lot of the junior doctors, they're discouraged from coming forward with any complaints that they have because they are made to believe that it will hinder you going forward with whatever career plans you had in mind. You will be hindered if you kick up too much fuss,” explained the doctor, who has been in the field for two years.

“Every day I come to work I face unwanted advancements. There is no boundary. I've actually been physically assaulted by senior doctors, but I have never reported it to a higher body — whether the medical council or my HR (Human Resource) Department. I've never gone forward because, honestly, I believe that if I do go forward my career will end. I honestly believe that my career will be hindered. They will do everything in their power to ensure that you don't achieve what you should,” she added.

She said several consultants use their powers to stymie efforts by their subordinates to bring awareness to the matter, which could have exposed hospitals and the lack of policies in place to protect junior doctors.

Her male colleague also alleged systemic abuse, arguing that consultants offer constant verbal abuse and little respect.

He explained that a “spat” with a consultant could jeopardise years of hard work, not to mention having future cases of any complaints ignored.

“There are a lot of people — I can tell from personal experience in knowing them — who did very well or have done very well and they don't pass because they previously had a spat with the consultant. There is definitely victimisation, especially with people who report things like sexual harassment. They get punished towards the end. I can tell you that sexual harassment supersedes every other issue we have,” he said.

“I have colleagues, both male and female, who have been sexually harassed by male consultants, but they are not going to say anything because being in the consultants' good grace is very important. It's [pivotal] to advancing your career, so a lot of people will just keep it to themselves. Usually, it starts out by friendships. The consultant has your number because you send them lab results from patient care — whether scans or other things — and then they start with the personal connections (via text messages). We're going to engage them because they are our boss and we want to be in their good graces. Then you realise it's like a formula, because most of the people who are enduring it always have the same story. It starts with 'What you doing now?', or 'You want to go for a drink later?' things that seem benign, but there's a power dynamic,” the male doctor explained.

Those texts quickly turn into requests for sexual favours, the doctor noted, a dilemma, he argued, no one should have to face.

“What ends up happening after you respond is 'What [are] you wearing?' They start sending pictures of their genitals and body parts. Even my friend, she's currently a resident now, she's getting them. She just ignores them. It even happens to the nurses as well; they are also victims. We endure a lot but we don't complain, because people are going to say it's nothing. We get asked what size is our penis and those things and what we love to do in bed,” the doctor said.

Another female doctor who spoke with the Observer did not hesitate when asked if she faced similar challenges in the workplace.

The doctor, who interns at one of the two main hospitals in the country, described some consultants as “deviant”.

“I have a consultant who is always calling, trying to come to my house and I keep asking 'Why do you need to come to my house? We are not friends. We work together.' I try to be very vocal about these things. I do not play with them. We get rooms when we're on call where we can go shower and take a quick nap. There's this resident who is always trying to find out what room I stay in at nights and what I wear at nights when I'm in the room. Something is wrong. That's crossing the line... at my hospital... some of the consultants harass you and touch you inappropriately,” the doctor said.

The Observer contacted president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA) Dr Elon Thompson, who noted that while doctors may very well face sexual harassment on the job, a lot of the complaints have not been filed with the JMDA.

The JMDA is a registered trade union and represents all medical doctors below the level of consultants (junior doctors: interns, senior house officers and medical doctors levels one to three).

“I understand that with some of the circumstances persons are not going to necessarily write about them, but I do believe in this time that we're in now persons have to document if it is that they are being victimised in any way. It has to be recorded. We don't have anything recorded about this, though I'm not saying that it has not been happening, because I'm not naive, but it would be very prudent to have records of these allegations,” said Thompson.

The Observer also contacted president of the Association of Government Medical Consultants Dr Konrad Lawson, who said that he could not comment on the matter without investigating. He also said that he was not aware of any complaints.

In the meantime, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said, while there is no specific policy as it relates to junior doctors and sexual harassment, the “bottom line is that it's not allowed.

“If there are cases that are discovered there is a hearing and appropriate action is taken,” said Tufton.

Nationally, the sexual harassment policy was recently tabled in Parliament by Minister of Gender Olivia “Babsy” Grange and has been sent to a joint select committee for consideration.


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