Tackling Assault against Female Medical Doctor in the Work Environment

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While Doctors were getting over the euphoria of the 2024 “World Doctors Day” on the 30th of March, and basking in the joy of the Easter Holiday and a new month, another case of assault against a female doctor by a patient relative was reported.

According to report by the state executive of the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN) Gombe state, the female Doctor – simply identified as Dr G. H. – was assaulted on the 1st of April 2024, while discharging her duties at the State Specialist hospital Gombe, leading to physical injury. Openly condemning this act, the association assured that the case will be handled to a logical conclusion. With all necessary officials informed and all persons involved facing the law.

Despite being the majority of healthcare workers globally, till date, women still largely experience rampant harassment and abuse in the medical field. Often pronounced but rather underreported, women are expected to take “whatever” is thrown at them and deal with it in silence – without complaining or raising an eyebrow.

However, workplace harassment (particularly against women) have been found to occur in different shades. Ranging from microaggressions to all types of outright abuse, gross misconduct and other predatory habits from senior colleagues, co-workers, patients, their relatives and so on. Mostly leading to female medical professionals feeling unsafe in their work environment and other negative effects such as: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for some, total mental breakdown, dropping out of medical training or the healthcare system, and even physical bodily harm for others.

According to the Hippocratic Oath, beyond patients care, pills, and postings; Doctors must also learn to look out for each other and practice selfcare and preservation.

Asides this current case of Dr G.H. in Gombe state, recently and in time past, we’ve had different cases of physical assault, sexual abuse and mental torture reported across different healthcare facilities across the country and beyond. Cases of medical students and interns been abused by residents and consultants, cases of interns and other junior cadres been harassed by other healthcare workers.

Generally, this would usually affect the interns (also known as house officers) more, because they are perceived to be at the foot of the medical profession’s hierarchical food chain. But the “female” house officers and younger professional have it worse, because they are perceived the “easiest to prey on” by perpetrators.

Most often than not, these cases are being swept under the rug, with the victims having no form of justice and the perpetrators left to roam freely.

However, on the 6th of April, the update from the Dr G.H. case in Gombe state by the state’s Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) Secretary, was that the culprit is under police custody. With the hospital lawyers and state NMA on top of the case, to ensure that the culprit is charged to court and justice is served accordingly. Also, the ARD secretary revealed that they are also working with the hospital management to ensure that such things does not occur in the future.

Albeit, aside making a show of the offenders – enacting an arrest, going to court, seeking justice for the offended – and setting examples by making sure they face the full force of law, other means that could be adopted to tackle this issue may include: mandating an open apology to serve as deterrent to others; enforcing a dismissal, suspension, demotion or total termination from work in cases where the perpetrators are co-colleagues or senior colleagues; and putting in place trusted and functional structures for prompt reporting and action that protects the identity, rights, job and career progression of the younger doctors being victimised.

Likewise, creating awareness and continuous advocacy against such occurrences in our healthcare spaces across all levels – from medical schools to hospitals and even association settings – must be amplified. As well as consistently encouraging older female doctors in senior, leadership and influential positions to stand up and speak up for their younger colleagues. Since they are beyond “touchable” in the medical profession already.

Finally, just as MWAN Gombe and other medical associations stood in solidarity with Dr G. H., we all must come together to strategically form appropriate collaborations with media houses, law enforcement agencies, advocacy support organizations and other important stakeholders, towards reducing workplace harassment and attaining a safe work environment for all (female) medical doctors and other healthcare professionals.

 

Editor’s note:
This report was collated by Medical Mirror Correspondent, Dr Mary O. Agoyi.

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