«There is a difference between hardening people through experience and actually putting them through absurd levels of stress and hours.
«Equally there’s a problem where if anyone ever complains or suggests that things are a bit excessive or demands are unreasonable the culture is such that these people are punished or labelled as a ‘complainer’ or a ‘whinger’.”
Unregistered trainees not being overseen by specialist colleges are particularly vulnerable to being overworked by unscrupulous hospitals, Associate Professor Rait said.
The treatment of female trainee doctors was this month again thrust into the spotlight with the account of a junior doctor in NSW who was hospitalised for exhaustion last year. She had been on call for 180 continuous hours and worked up to 70 hours a week, with senior staff ignoring her repeated pleas for help.
It follows public uproar in 2015 when a senior female surgeon said sexism was so prevalent that young women in the field should probably just accept unwanted sexual advances, because reporting such behaviour could ruin a complainant’s career.
Dr Jill Tomlinson, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Melbourne, said the same issues that had affected generations of female surgeons kept coming up again and again.
“[There is] an increasing pool of strong women that have made it through and are now advocating from the other side of training, [but] it’s not been enough,” she said.
Dr Tomlinson said it remained very hard for trainees to take maternity leave, and she was aware of a number of examples where women were instead forced to apply for weeks of annual leave when they had their babies, then made to work extra on-call shifts before taking their leave.
“Women are also strongly encouraged not to get pregnant during their training terms and are often told that they are doing the wrong thing or not thinking of their colleagues.”
Research commissioned by the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 2015 found 71.9 per cent of female surgical trainees had experienced gender-based discrimination in their workplace. Some 10 per cent of female trainees said they had experienced sexual harassment.
In 2013, 52 per cent of medical students were women but only 9 per cent of fully qualified surgeons were female. Women accounted for 28 per cent of people entering surgical training but were at least twice as likely to leave the programs compared to men, according to data presented by Royal Melbourne Hospital neurosurgeon registrar Ruth Mitchell.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos did not respond to questions about AMA Victoria’s push for a review. She said a joint state government and WorkSafe campaign to raise awareness about inappropriate behaviour among healthcare workers would soon begin in hospitals.
«In Victoria, while it’s great to see rates of bullying falling, there is always more work to do,» Ms Mikakos said in a statement.
The ‘People Matter Survey’, which is compulsory for all public health service workers to complete, found 17 per cent of respondents experienced bullying in 2018. This was down from 20 per cent in 2017 and 22 per cent in 2016.
Associate Professor Rait said reviews by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission into similar problems at Victoria Police should be used as a guide for any review into the medical training system in Victoria’s public hospitals.
Aisha Dow reports on health for The Age and is a former city reporter.
Anthony is a reporter at The Age