Outside investigation finds sexual harassment and bullying at MUN medical school

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Outside investigation finds sexual harassment and bullying at MUN medical school

An outside investigation ordered by the dean of medicine at Memorial University has found signs of intimidation and harassment in some parts of the faculty of medicine.

Last November, dean Margaret Steele said there had been several concerns brought to her attention, including "allegations of bullying, intimidation, harassment and sexual harassment," and announced plans for a review.

It was conducted by Sandra LeFort, a former director of MUN's School of Nursing, and released to the public on Monday.

She conducted interviews with 57 people for her 85-page report, and also received nine written submissions.

Gender bias, bullying

Speaking with students. faculty, and administration, Lefort found many people who said they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Lefort wrote that several students in the undergraduate department said some professors and physicians showed signs of gender bias, including one clinical clerk who was interested in a surgical career and was allegedly told it would be too stressful for her and that, "she looked more like a family doctor and besides she might be a 'distraction' in the operating room."

In the postgraduate department, LeFort found that "most believe there is a culture of tolerance for harassment by certain individuals and in some residency programs."

Examples of this included some residents being signalled out and picked on, being told "not to call the attending physician with patient concerns and when they do call, being sworn at over the phone," and being on the receiving end of comments about race or body size.

Some students said experiencing this type of behaviour negatively affected their wellbeing, and helped contribute to a feeling that "no one has your back."

Past issues

There's been additional reports of intimidation and bullying at MUN's Faculty of Medicine in recent years.

The school received a notice of intent to withdraw accreditation from its internal medicine program from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) in April of 2017, following a review it conducted in the fall of 2016.

In that review, the Royal College said issues remained involving harassment and intimidation between faculty members and residents in the program.

They said the setup gives residents "excessive levels of of professional responsibility that are disproportionate to their level of training, competence, and experience."

The Royal College will conduct an external review of the program in 2019, and if the school fails that review, the internal medicine program will lose accreditation.

Steele said last year that she was confident the school was taking the proper steps to prepare for the review, and that losing accreditation is not an option..

'Generally a respectful environment'

In her report, LeFort said her "overall impression of the culture of Memorial's Faculty of Medicine is that it is generally a respectful environment and a good place to learn and work."

She said however, "there is a culture of tolerance of disrespectful and harassing behaviour by some individuals in some areas. As well, there is concern about some gender-related issues."

In her closing recommendations, she advised MUN to consider hiring more staff at the school's sexual harassment office, and to establish an office of equity that is at "arms length from line authority."

Steele released a memo on Monday and said, "We are taking the recommendations very seriously."

She said the university has already made numerous changes to make staff, faculty and students more aware of the supports available when dealing with harassment.

The full report by Lefort is available here.