6 Dec 2022

Med students say doctor touched their breasts during cardiac demo

6:21 pm on 6 December 2022

By Qiuyi Tan, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

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A doctor is before a disciplinary tribunal for unnecessary and inappropriate touching. Photo: Public Domain

A doctor is accused of touching the breasts of four women when they were medical students - on the pretext of teaching them how to do a difficult cardiovascular exam.

One woman said the man showed a strange persistence to perform this exam over others, his hand lingering on her breast longer than expected for a tutorial.

"It felt very invasive and did not feel right," another woman told a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

Their identities along with that of the man, Dr G, were protected.

The Medical Council's Professional Conduct Committee said all four women had remarkably similar encounters with the doctor, their senior at the time, in 2016 and 2018.

They alleged that during the course of informal one-on-one tutorials he would touch their left breasts in an inappropriate and unnecessary way, without their full and properly informed consent.

One woman told the tribunal Dr G took her to an isolated meeting room on her first day at the hospital and asked her to close the door.

"There was no one around," she said.

She said he suggested going through a cardiovascular examination, something students usually found difficult, she recalled him saying.

The cardiovascular examination is a complex one focusing on the patient's heart but also includes the hands, face, and neck.

It involved multiple steps, one of which required the examiner to place an entire hand on the patient's chest to locate what is called the apex beat - the impact of the heart against the chest wall.

The woman said she felt awkward because this was usually done in a group setting and on male students, but said yes thinking he would take her pulse or examine her neck.

Dr G quickly moved to the apex beat, she said, launching to demonstrate it on her without saying anything, his palm touching her left breast.

"I felt like I'd been groped," she said, explaining that it felt "like sexual touching, not clinical touching".

"He made me feel scared, powerless and vulnerable," even though she was a mature student at the time, the tribunal heard.

She said the man had a higher standing while she was completely new that day in 2018 and needed to build relationships, especially with consultants like Dr G from whom she needed references.

After the incident, she messaged a colleague on Facebook to say she was "cornered and groped" by Dr G, and was told the same thing happened to the colleague two years before, in 2016.

The colleague, also one of the complainants, had warned her to "be careful" of Dr G right before the incident happened.

A third complainant told the tribunal Dr G showed a strange persistence to perform the cardiac exam over other exams, demonstrating it on her and touching her breast on two separate occasions.

"I would have thought he would just do it once to demonstrate it, but I felt like he was really trying to feel for it properly on both occasions," she said.

He offered to go through the exam with her a third and even a fourth time in the following weeks, which she declined.

She told her boyfriend after each incident, but did not tell Dr G the interactions made her "deeply uncomfortable".

"I was fresh from university ... and you really don't have any experience or authority to say anything," she said.

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt [because] it was in the context of teaching me how to do a clinical exam."

Charges were first laid against Dr G earlier this year, and a hearing in October was adjourned after the first day.

Opening the case at the October hearing, lawyer for the professional conduct committee Belinda Johns said Dr G's demo of the cardiac exam on the women themselves had little to no learning benefit for the medical students.

A cardiovascular examination was not itself sensitive, she said, but locating the apex beat on a female involved a sensitive area under the breast and required special care, awareness and sensitivity.

The tribunal chaired by Theo Baker continues this week.

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This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.