Medical students launch new guide to address discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment

Medical students launch new guide to address discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment

Graduate School of Medicine students want to shift the culture in hospitals and universities

The university experience is different for everyone, but it can be particularly challenging for University of Wollongong (UOW) medical students, who spend long periods of time on placements and away from campus.

It was this experience of being away from campus and not knowing what to do or where to go when things went wrong, that got third-year students Tara Passlow and Anna Kynaston talking.

“Medicine is a bit tricky in that we operate in a bit of a no man’s land sometimes because we don’t fit in with the timetable as strictly as other students do. From our second year we’re frequently off campus working in hospitals, GP practices and community centres, so we spend the majority of our degree outside the university,” Anna said.

“Sometimes things can happen when you’re on a placement and you don’t know what to do, and while there are great support systems in place at UOW, when you’re not on campus it can be difficult to know what they are.”

“Unfortunately there are pretty alarming rates of sexual harassment and assault across universities, and similar levels amongst junior doctors in NSW,” Anna said. “It’s a problem we talk about a lot.”

After discussing the issue with two of their student societies, the Wollongong University Medical Student Society and the Society of Wollongong Women in Medicine, they decided to create their own resource guide to support students in the Graduate School of Medicine.

The result was The Discrimination, Bullying and Sexual Harassment Guide, a reference guide for UOW Graduate School of Medicine students on the definitions, policies and avenues for reporting and seeking support to identify and manage incidents of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.

Tara says that while they didn’t make anything new or develop policies, they collated everything into one place that medical students could access if something goes wrong and they want help.

“The idea is that every student in the Graduate School of Medicine knows about this guide and if they’re on placement or at uni and something happens they can access this document, scan through it and easily find out who they should speak to or where they should go,” Tara said.

“The last thing you want to do when you’re going through a difficult situation away from campus is scrolling webpages trying to work out what to do.

“UOW already has amazing support systems through SARC (Safe and Respectful Communities), but we wanted to streamline it for medical students, especially for those who might be on placement and navigating the NSW Health system too.”

Tara Passlow, UOW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson, Anna Kynaston and Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes

Dean of Graduate Medicine Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes welcomed the new guide that Anna and Tara have created.

“As a medical school we have a responsibility to maintain the high standard of our profession. This responsibility is to the profession, the community as well as students and colleagues,” Professor Kecskes said.

“People may be worried about speaking up because they’re worried it will affect their career later in life or that it will make things worse for them at university, but we will always listen and handle these situations in the most professional way possible.

“When Anna and Tara spoke to me about the guide I was happy to support their initiative.  It’s important for us to raise awareness, educate, provide options for reporting and support anyone who has been affected by bullying, harassment and discrimination.”

The Discrimination, Bullying and Sexual Harassment Guide is available for students to access online. There are also QR codes around the Graduate School of Medicine building so students can access the guide quickly on their phones.

Anna and Tara have been busy undertaking their own version of a UOW roadshow and have been meeting with student groups and attending lectures to talk about the new guide and what to do if students face discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment. They said the response to their new guide has been wonderful.

“We have had such great support from everyone, including Professor Kecskes, our student groups, SARC and Graduate School of Medicine staff,” Anna said.

“Several UOW Graduate School of medicine employees have put their hands up to undertake first responders training through SARC and want to be part of our Bullying and Safety Education Team (BASE).

“These are UOW staff members who are willing to make themselves available to students experiencing bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination. It’s been a good outcome and we’re really happy with the response.”

UOW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson said discrimination, bullying and harassment is everyone’s problem and applauded Tara and Anna for creating this guide for their fellow students.

“With my background in nursing I am very aware of the challenges health professionals can face in the industry and this guide is an important resource for our students to have access to,” Professor Davidson said.

“Every person at UOW has the right to feel safe and welcome and to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness. Any instance of sexual harassment or sexual assault is one instance too many and I applaud Tara and Anna for their work they’re doing to address this critical issue.”

Tara and Anna discuss their new guide with UOW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson

Tara and Anna will continue to raise awareness of the new guide and hope that the discussions and lessons learnt will stay with people, long after they’ve left UOW.

“Ultimately we want to ingrain this knowledge and information while students are still at uni. If people know what bullying and harassment looks like early on then when they graduate and go into the workforce they’ve got more skills and will be better equipped to deal with it,” Tara said.

“While we are starting small, we hope to be able to eventually put an end to discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment and shift the culture in our universities and hospitals for good.”