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Report of sexual harassment and bullying released regarding The University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine

News
Article

A third party report regarding the school’s ophthalmology program showed an environment of “anxiety, apprehension, disappointment, frustration, fear, regret.”

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Jeff Whyte)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Jeff Whyte)

The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine has had numerous reports of bullying and sexual harassment of student eye doctors in the ophthalmology program, according to a report from CTV News Vancouver.

According to the report from CTV,1 whistleblowers reached out to the news organization last year stating the university was brushing aside complaints by students and trainees for years. CTV says they have obtained a written report from UBC that an “environmental scan” was completed by a third party and found unacceptable behavior which resulted in students being reassigned to “safe learning environments.”

Lawyer Renee Miller conducted the report that was dated May 20, 2022. According to CTV News, they had filed a freedom of information request for Miller’s findings and were given the run around by UBC. Firstly, UBC asked for clarification on the application despite “very specific wording” according to CTV News. Following the clarification, UBC surpassed the 30-day response window mandated under legislation, saying they were “busy with multiple requests.”1

Furthermore, CTV News reached out numerous times to UBC in hopes of talking to anyone representing the university, the ophthalmology program, or the school of medicine. Requests were refused and all that was received was an email statement jointly attributed to Ravi Sidhu, MD, Med, FRCSC, associate dean of the surgical department, and Neeru Gupta, MD, PhD, MBA, FRCSC, the new head of the ophthalmology department.1

CTV News released part of the statement that said, “the department is committed to a healthy learning environment and educational relationships. We understand the profound seriousness of the concerns raised, and what we heard was unacceptable. We acknowledge that the learning environment was seriously and negatively impacting our trainees.”

UBC claimed privacy concerns due to human resources, but stated trainees were reassigned “as needed” and faculty was put through “mandatory training.”

UBC was asked to comment by Ophthalmology Times and received a statement from Sidhu that mirrored the response to CTV. Sidhu stated the school took “swift action” after reviewing the scan results and cited an inability to discuss HR matters due to privacy law. Sidhu did provide a list of actions that were taken internally, however, including:

  • Reassigning trainees as needed to ensure a safe learning environment.
  • Mandatory training sessions for faculty regarding the “learning environment, wellness and mentorship expectations.”
  • CME activities for faculty and trainees were introduced to ensure a “shared understanding of professional conduct and standards.”
  • “Additional pathways for safe and timely reporting of concerns were established to support the trainees with more frequent check-ins.”
  • A more active and ongoing monitoring system of the learning environment was implemented, guided by more “frequent meetings between the program directors and residents.”

The report from Miller interviewed 60 students, instructors, administrators, and other staff. In her report, Miller said “the majority of learners and many of the staff I interviewed are of the opinion that the learning environment is not safe. […] The program has persistent issues of unprofessional conduct and harassment: sexual harassment, racial, and bullying and harassment.”1

According to CTV News, the reports from whistleblowers in the program a year ago were substantiated by Miller’s report, which went into “considerable detail.” Miller wrote that as of Spring 2022, “sexual harassment continues within the clinical departments…includes inappropriate touching learners’ buttocks with hands and inadvertently…with staff genital areas.”

According to the report from Miller, inappropriate comments included whether residents were “hot” and referred to women as “sex workers,” as well as referencing sexual activity. According to CTV News, the report also outlined 1 doctor who was described as regularly standing so close to students performing surgeries and any movement from the student “inadvertently brushed or bumped against this doctor’s genital area.”

Amongst the sexual harassment, the report outlined reports of bullying from the staff as well. Incidents included calling students “stupid” in front of peers and medical staff as well as physician-instructors laughing at the students’ mistakes and using other abusive language. Students reported feeling “degraded and embarrassed.”

The same staff was also reported as making racist and sexist comments as well as racist and sexist behavior. Miller’s report found 20% of the staff were identified as being “excellent and supportive of learning,” while another 20% were viewed as “persistently creating a negative learning environment, creating anxiety, apprehension, disappointment, frustration, fear, regret.”

The report found that the UBC ophthalmology program is also “not currently fulfilling its full mandate,” with senior residents finishing training without “having experience or exposure to, at all or with sufficiency, all the minimums” required by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Last year, UBC was at risk of losing the ability to train new surgeons, with Canada’s Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons issuing a “notice of intent to withdraw accreditation.”2

Only recently did UBC have full accreditation restored.

References:
  1. Daflos P. 'Culture of fear' and 'ongoing sexual harassment' prompt changes at UBC ophthalmology program. CTV News Vancouver. January 23, 2024. Accessed January 30, 2024. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/culture-of-fear-and-ongoing-sexual-harassment-prompt-changes-at-ubc-ophthalmology-program-1.6739097
  2. Daflos P. 'A really big deal': UBC at risk of losing eye doctor training program. CTV News Vancouver. January 17, 2023. Accessed January 30, 2023. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/a-really-big-deal-ubc-at-risk-of-losing-eye-doctor-training-program-1.6235181
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