Female doctors are the ’punching bags’ for colleagues and patients
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THERE is growing concern in the health sector that female doctors in particular have become “physical and emotional punching bags” for some patients and even their male colleagues at the workplace.
But little or nothing is being done to stem these age-old attacks which usually take the form of emotional and physical abuse, including rejecting romantic advances, that’s because medicine was still “in the hands of the old boys club”.
Over the past 10 days the spotlight fell on three female doctors who had been on the receiving end of violent attacks and emotional abuse, while on duty.
A distressed doctor Mandisa Kubeka shared details of how she was assaulted with a file by a patient at the Lillian Ngoyi Community Clinic in Soweto during a TV interview, minutes after the attack.
The previous weekend two female doctors were stabbed by a patient at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley, Northern Cape.
A known male patient, prone to substance abuse, had an epileptic fit. While being treated at the hospital’s casualty section, he became aggressive and lashed out at the doctors.
It has been reported that the doctors are recovering well and are receiving psychosocial support, while the patient was arrested and due to make a court appearance.
Steve Ledibane, provincial manager of the Public Servants Association in that region, said the incident was “worrisome and a serious cause for concern” and they condemned it.
He said they have raised issues around safety at public healthcare facilities previously and also wondered what the hospital’s management has done to ensure the safety of employees.
“Such incidents should never occur and the provincial health authorities need to act decisively.”
Ledibane said the patient in question has been arrested.
In July, the Sunday Tribune reported on a finalised court matter relating to an incident in 2020 where doctor Ayesha Tariq was punched in the face by the brother of her deceased patient.
Dr Tariq, who was incapacitated for nine months and required facial surgery to treat her injuries, magnanimously asked the court not to hand her attacker, Zunaid Bux, a term of imprisonment when sentencing was dealt with.
Bux was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment - wholly suspended for five years - provided he does not commit a similar offence in that period
He was also asked to complete a rehabilitative programme on anger management and character building.
Kubeka said she explained a clinic notice to a patient and stressed that it was not her instruction but the patient had the “audacity to insult me” before hitting her with the file.
“I was scared. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to work under these conditions anymore. When is anyone going to hear us?,” Kubeka asked.
Dr Kajal Lutchminarian, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, former Miss India Worldwide and member of the KZN Specialist Network, representing about 400 medical specialists in private practice, said similar cries for help have been made but has been falling on deaf ears.
Lutchminarian explained that historically medicine was a man’s world, and women had to contend with misogynistic behaviour from patients often being mistaken for nurses or addressed without the Dr title.
She asked that a safe space be created to protect our women, so that patients or colleagues don't feel a right to use them as a physical or emotional punching bag
“Male colleagues who suffer from an inferiority complex, or are threatened by a woman who can do the same work, sought to make themselves feel superior by punitive behaviour toward female juniors or colleagues.
“There is a militant culture in medicine of ’breaking you down and building you up’ and as someone who was raised in a strict family we understand this concept of character building, hard work and ’tough love’. But pathologic mistreatment and personal abuse must never be disguised as this, as there is a clear difference.”
While Lutchminarain accepted there were strong and confident men and women in their fraternity and times were changing, she believes it was not happening fast enough as old habits die hard.
She said women get picked on for things like their appearance, being married and having kids. Patients and relatives go through many stages of grief during an illness or unexpected events, including anger and often see female doctors as an easy target to vent their frustrations.
Lutchminarain said females being abused has always happened and was worse before.
“It has been well documented and archived throughout medicine, especially in women of colour. We are hearing about it now because people are standing up for others and listening. Also, women are becoming more empowered to speak up.
“As shocking as it sounds for a highly educated and skilled female doctor of colour, the majority of us have either witnessed or experienced some form of physical or verbal abuse.”
She asserted that those responsible must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their standing in the fraternity.
“As a human rights activist, I encourage women to speak up and society to listen, as it is the only way to change the narrative for our future daughters and generations.”
Joshila Ranchhod, group executive and company secretary and ethics officer of the Life Healthcare group said caring for people was an integral part of their operations and it went beyond their patients.
“It is most upsetting to hear of senseless and violent attacks on all women, including medical professionals and we condemn these actions in the harshest terms.
Ranchhod said the care, safety and well-being of their employees, including doctors and independent practitioners was of paramount importance and they exercised zero tolerance for human rights violations, threats, harassment and abuse.
“As a company and responsible corporate citizen, we stand firmly against gender-based violence and promote an environment of respect within our hospitals.”