#ChooseToChallenge: Why gender equity is a medical issue

By Sophie Skuza and Dana Boden (MUMUS Gender Equity Committee)

Trigger warning: sexual harassment and sexual assault

The voices of women have dominated the Australian media landscape over the last two months. To recap, we’ve had 4 allegations of rape against one man in our Federal Parliament, a historical rape allegation brought to light against one of the most high profile people in Federal Cabinet, and a petition started by Chanel Contos to teach comprehensive sex education in schools at an earlier age. 

These events, along with International Women’s Day on March 8th, have contributed to the recent widespread outrage felt by many individuals across the country, and resulted in the nation-wide Women’s March 4 Justice held on March 15th.

While, at first glance, these issues – namely gender-based discrimination and the sexual assault of women – might not be strongly connected to the medical profession, the reality is that these issues are still commonplace. Within hospitals and other healthcare settings, to this day, there exists the rampant mistreatment of women, both as patients and as colleagues. Women and people of diverse genders still face challenges every day, which is why the battle for gender equality is so important.

Dr Caroline Tan Source: http://drcarolinetan.com

Take the case of Dr Caroline Tan, a neurosurgeon whose career was derailed after she spoke out against the sexual assault she experienced from a senior colleague in 2005. Despite winning the case against her senior colleague in 2008, Dr Tan believes that her decision to take action against the sexual assault she experienced contributed to her being shunned by other surgeons and repeatedly overlooked for positions within both public and private hospitals. During her VCAT hearing, Dr Tan was accused of fabricating her sexual assault experience as an ‘excuse’ for her poor work performance. She was forced to relive her assault in vivid detail, while her authenticity was criticised when she couldn’t recall exact details about the “colour, size, or shape” of her abuser’s penis. It was also revealed that the individual she initially reported the assault to, the head of her department, responded to the tune of, “What do you expect when you dress the way you do?” after she disclosed the details of her assault to him. Dr Tan’s abuser did not face any disciplinary action, and he continues to work with the same employer (at Monash Health).

Dr Tan’s case was referenced by Dr Gabrielle McMullin, a Sydney vascular surgeon, at a function in 2015. Dr McMullin, who, rather than praising Dr Tan’s strength in reporting her assault, made the shocking and heartless suggestion that surgical trainees should stay silent and complicit if they have been sexually assaulted by a colleague, as speaking up about their abuse could have consequences for their careers. She went on to say; “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. The worst thing you could possibly do is to complain to the supervising body, because … you can be sure that you will never be appointed to a major public hospital”.

Possibly the most horrifying part of Dr McMullin’s speech was when she said Dr Tan probably would have been “much better [off] to have given [her abuser] a blow job on that night”.

“This unacceptable abuse of power is unfortunately far too common within the medical profession, especially due to the strength of hierarchical structures existing within hospitals”

This unacceptable abuse of power is unfortunately far too common within the medical profession, especially due to the strength of hierarchical structures existing within hospitals. The entrenched belief that women should simply accept and comply with unwanted advances to further their careers serves only to subjugate women while encouraging further violent and illegal behaviour from men. It also contributes to the attitudes surrounding misogynistic statements such as, ‘she slept her way to the top’, rather than revealing the reality of this statement: ‘she was taken advantage of by men who use their positions of power to dominate women’’. Furthermore, Dr McMullin’s comments disempower women from seeking counsel after they have experienced sexual harassment or assault, causing profound feelings of shame, hopelessness, and trauma.

The case of Dr Caroline Tan is disturbing, tragic and outrageous. Her story is hard to hear, and it is a stain on the medical profession that we should all be ashamed of. But rather than just accepting her story, we have to change the narrative. We must ensure there are no more individuals treated as Dr Tan was, and rather than victim blaming and coercing women into silence, we must encourage them to speak up, and support them whilst doing so. We cannot continue to live in a world where the choice exists between a woman’s career and her safety.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Choose To Challenge”: why not challenge yourself to be a stronger ally for women and other people of diverse genders, or challenge others to change their behaviour towards women?

It begs the question: what can I do to help?

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “choose to challenge”: why not challenge yourself to be a stronger ally for women and other people of diverse genders, or challenge others to change their behaviour towards women?

  • Call out misogyny and other gender-based discrimination/prejudice.
    • If you hear others, including your friends and family, speaking about women in a derogatory way, stand up for women and tell those individuals that the way they are speaking is not ok.
    • If you see a woman being bothered or harassed, walk over and support her.
  • If someone opens up to you about sexual harassment or assault, do not victim blame them. Listen, hear, and encourage her to report. Do not get defensive or pass it off as unimportant/insignificant.
  • Advocate for women’s issues and other gender-diverse issues – sign petitions, attend protests, spread information!

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The MUMUS Gender Equity role was founded in 2018, and since then the Gender Equity team has worked hard to bring representation and inclusivity to Monash Medicine through four key areas: curriculum, social media, community building and advocacy.

In the past few years, great things have been accomplished, including:

  • Making the anatomy curriculum more trans inclusive by changing male/female to assigned male/female at birth
  • Introducing asking sexuality into the reproductive history, to avoid assumptions of straightness
  • Introducing pronoun stickers to clinical student name badges
  • Data collection to ensure MUMUS is accurately representing the medical student body
  • Upskilling events with panels of incredible female-identifying medical professionals

In 2021, we hope to bring even more inclusivity to the curriculum, as well as running incredible events, building community through our Facebook group SafeSpace, and spotlighting incredible health professionals on our socials!

Humans of Medicine – Manoj Arachige

Tell me about yourself. 

Hi, I’m Manoj. I’ve (thankfully) just finished Year 4C, and am about to go into my BMedSc year. Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in a few things within and outside of medicine. I was part of the MUMUS committee in 2nd and 3rd year, and during this time, was also trying to make the most of my time at uni by taking some risks and doing random things that would put me out of my comfort zone. Some of these things included joining a consulting club at Monash, being an ambassador for the Monash Generator Project, and participating in an accelerator, which is essentially an intensive start-up program. Over the last couple of years, I’ve also been running an education/online tutoring company with a couple of friends. I’m still doing this today, and it’s something that I’ve been having a lot of fun with! 

Can you provide some insight into how you got involved in these different endeavours? 

When I started uni, I decided to take first year as a pretty chill, experimental year to become accustomed to uni life, get a sense of the course and to make friends. I started to gain a bit of momentum in second year, being involved with MUMUS and volunteering with the RCD foundation. However, at a certain point, I just had a bit of an existential crisis about how I wanted to expand my experiences while I was young and had nothing to lose (except sleep!). 

This is when I joined a consulting club at Monash. I had no idea what was happening, and I was surrounded by law and commerce students who had been studying their degrees for 3-4 years, but I just threw myself into it. I ended up having a lot of fun, and learnt a lot about a field that we’re not exposed to in medicine. It was a bit of a gateway drug, in that it opened me up to aspects of different industries that I hadn’t ever had experience with before. After that, I applied for a lot of similar committees and roles, and this gave me the opportunity to gain insight into the worlds of finance, corporations, law, politics, arts, technology, etc. 

Things started to build when a friend and I decided to found a tutoring company. I also then went through the accelerator at Monash, which is essentially an intensive program where you’re provided mentoring and ten thousand dollars worth of funding for a start-up. I’ve still been working quite intimately with the team, and working on the company alongside (or instead of!) studying. That’s probably a brief overview and a highlight reel of how things started off. I didn’t ever expect things to turn out like this, but it’s definitely opened my eyes to outside the confines of the hospital. 

What do you think was the most intoxicating part about being exposed to the world of business? 

Initially, it was kind of instinctual; I just naturally gravitated towards it. I guess I realised that it was something I was really interested in when I was doing business-related work or research until the early hours of the morning, and it didn’t feel as if I was working. It was productive, but I was also having so much fun with it. 

When I learnt more about it, I realised that commerce actually aligns with a lot of my values. Business is an area that can have some associated stigma in comparison to something like medicine, but I personally think it also has the potential to aid the world in so many different ways. It’s one of those industries that has a legacy. It doesn’t just focus on the moment, but on the future and thinking about what comes next. I like to think about the saying ‘we’re standing on the shoulders of giants’ when I think about business, technology or science. Every single time someone makes a scientific breakthrough or starts a new company, they become giants for future innovators. Medicine is more of a reactive field, where you’re dealing with problems faced in the moment. There’s tangibility and instant gratification when helping a patient. While I derive a lot of joy from helping patients in this way, my brain also prioritises long-term thinking, and I gravitate strongly towards this legacy effect. 

How do you see the business and medicine sides of yourself meshing together, if at all? 

I think it’s two-fold. Firstly, being in medicine has probably been one of the greatest experiences of my life. While I credit this largely to the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met, another big reason is that the skills I’ve learnt during my time in medicine have been surprisingly transferable to a lot of different contexts. For example, during my consulting job, I realised that instead of treating an individual, I was being asked to diagnose a problem and then treat a business. This, alongside critical thinking, empathy and problem solving, are definitely skills that are invaluable regardless of the industry. 

Secondly, medicine is an area which is slowly developing. With enough impetus, it’s an industry that can change really quickly. Although our roles as future healthcare professionals won’t change too much, the entire field of medicine is undeniably being changed by technology, and I look forward to seeing how medicine will look in 40 years time. I think there’s a lot of potential for all the aforementioned industries – business, commerce, technology – to come together to improve medicine. 

What’s something that people might not know is involved in starting a business?  

At the end of the day, the most exciting and hardest part about starting a business isn’t just coming up with an idea, but more so the execution of that idea. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to have an idea, start it up, build it and make it successful. I think around 60% of businesses fail within the first three years of their formation, so the odds are definitely not in your favour. I think pursuing anything within business that isn’t a natural passion makes the entire process quite difficult, and it takes a lot out of you. 

One of the most vital things when it comes to starting a business is something called product-market fit. It can be a complicated concept when fleshed out, but at it’s core, it’s about building and creating something that people want. In order to carve out your own niche, you need to provide a service that people are not just looking for, but willing to pay for. In some cases, it’s more straightforward, such as with our tutoring company. In other cases, especially when you’re starting up with new ideas that are left-of-field, it’s a little more difficult. Once you have an idea, it’s important to put it to the test – put something scrappy together and see if people respond well to it. It’s kind of what we did at the very start, and that’s something I’d consider to be one of the most crucial aspects of starting up a business. 

Who do you admire and why? 

Hmm…can I say Batman? 

As long as you provide a justification for it! 

Well, I think a generic answer would probably be to say Elon Musk or Bill Gates, and of course, these are people that I greatly admire. From my perspective, however, I relate a lot of core values back to the concept of Batman. I just read a book about why Batman is so cool, and I think the reason I look up to this fictional character is because when you think about it, he’s just a guy. Sure, he has the advantages of wealth and status, but besides that, he’s just a human being amongst a world where every other superhero has superhuman special abilities. I think Batman embodies the idea of someone making a tangible difference and becoming something greater than just themselves, and that’s what I admire. This translates to some of the great leaders and entrepreneurs – Barack Obama, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates. They’re regular people, but they’ve built a world they’d like to see. 

What do you wish you’d known going into medicine? 

I’d like to preface this answer by saying that I wouldn’t change any of the decisions that I made for anything in the world. What I would’ve liked to know, however, is what the day-to-day work would be like in medicine. As a high school student, a lot of the jobs that we’re exposed to are glamourised. There might be some students who chose medicine because of Grey’s Anatomy, for example, or some who chose law after watching Harvey Specter! Seeing the realistic day-in day-out of a job is important, because we’ll be in this job for the next 40 years or so. What’s been really cool to see though is that for a lot of the people in our cohort, they’ve arrived at the right career pathway and are extremely passionate about wanting to be good doctors, and that’s super inspiring. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years time? 

If I could see ten years into the future, I would buy a lot of stocks! Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to predict that I would be where I am today, so I have no idea of exactly where I’ll be in ten years. However, I’m definitely going down a path of a lot of discovery and exploration. I’m currently going through the process of figuring out what I enjoy, and what aligns with my values the most. Once I find that, that’s what I’ll be doing 10 years from now.

BREAKING: Local lecture becomes too high-yield, detonates

BY JAMES GUNASEGARAM

MELBOURNE – Pre-exam season is a turbulent time for all med students, doubly so in the current COVID climate. The preclinical students have been hit especially hard – their days are now occupied by sitting at home and staring at their computers intently, when only months ago they were sitting at home and staring at their computers absent-mindedly.

This high-octane environment has been the cause of many a mishap in the past, but the latest one dwarfs its predecessors. The Auricle understands that Joshua Leung, a first-year student from the Clayton campus, was watching a biochemistry lecture to revise when yield levels became supercritical, resulting in a chain reaction much like nuclear fission. Through an unofficial arrangement with a member of St. John’s Ambulance, the Auricle managed to contact Joshua for an exclusive interview as he was being raced to hospital.

The teen explained that he hadn’t realised how dangerous of a situation he was creating. “Well I used to watch lectures at 2x speed, but now everyone’s doing that. So I figured that I had to reach at least 4x to be competitive. And after that, hacking Moodle’s webserver to reach 6x felt like a natural step.”

“I realised something was wrong when I started seeing less and less “Do Not Memorise” tags, but it all happened so quickly that I had no time to react. One moment the slides were flashing across the screen as usual, the next there was this loud bang and I passed out. When I came to, my computer was smoking. I was in the middle of calculating its pack-year history when I passed out again.” [UPDATE – The Auricle has heard that Joshua is in a stable condition at Monash Medical Center. While he sustained no major injuries in the explosion, he is being treated for an unrelated case of egomegaly.]

With more and more high-yield content appearing over the years, supercritical yield had been theorised by numerous researchers but never achieved in practice. Previous experiments had focused on PSP revision lectures for their unusually high concentration of relevant content. Researchers believe the high speed of Joshua’s lecture may have been the key, with a table of useful information providing the critical moment that caused the detonation. After one of them spent two hours unsuccessfully trying to explain the concept of nuclear fission to The Auricle’s editorial staff, Chris Wright, who had not been contacted for comment, barged in and declared it further proof that Physics should be a prerequisite for Medicine.

The incident has raised safety concerns for other lectures as SWOTVAC fast approaches. The Medicine faculty has considered introducing speed limits for video content, and has proactively issued yield advisories for most courses. HEP lectures were noted to have dangerous yield spikes when one of the four relevant statistics were mentioned. Population Health and Med Law lectures are currently considered low risk.

The Auricle will continue to update you as the situation develops.