Features Australia

The doctor won’t see you now

11 January 2020

9:00 AM

11 January 2020

9:00 AM

The ‘cancel culture’ is becoming more pronounced among doctors, highlighting the leftist drift of the profession.

The latest worrying example is the standing down of the world-renowned obstetrician Professor Hans Dietz from Nepean Hospital in Sydney’s outer suburbs. This occurred last month a week before Christmas.

Dietz made comments in an email that ‘an increasingly vulnerable workforce’ amongst doctors was in part related to a higher proportion of female doctors. He also stated that women were more likely to take time off for training,  were more expensive to train and spent fewer years working due to child-rearing demands.

These comments are undoubtedly politically incorrect. Several colleagues, including the college that represents obstetricians, admonished Professor Dietz publicly, citing his comments as sexist.

In an added gender-related twist to the dispute, Professor Dietz has also been accused by midwives of overstating the risks of vaginal births. Professor Dietz is a world leader in advocating for women who have suffered birth trauma during vaginal delivery. The delivery suite is notoriously charged with many midwives viewing the birth process as being overmedicalised, which could also be seen as a synonym for being too influenced by men.

None of these reasons should be enough to disqualify an otherwise highly-regarded specialist. Nor have his many critics refuted his claims as untrue, only that they were unacceptable.

Just as in the wider culture, there is a growing intolerance within the medical profession for views not acceptable to the Left. This may pertain to climate change, asylum seekers or the gender wars. It encapsulates the divergence of views among educated professionals from the wider electorate.

Doctors are at the forefront. The politics of feeling is easily recast under the guise of ‘health’.

Last month my colleague Professor Ian Hickie, in what appeared to be an eager attempt to gain media attention, suggested urgent action against climate change was necessary to limit population anxiety. Climate change was now, according to Hickie, a mental health issue.

Doctors’ groups were at the forefront of supporting the now overturned Medevac laws. This was despite almost a thousand asylum seekers having been evacuated prior to the passing of the laws when more urgent medical treatment was needed.

During the gay marriage debate there was a movement by GetUp! to deregister the general practitioner Dr Pansy Lai for her Christian views against the proposal.

I was disinivited from a national conference for medical students early last year, merely for using the term ‘feminisation’ in a tweet, a word deemed not adequately inclusive according to an email I received from the conference’s public relations manager.

The gender debate has gained extra sensitivity since Dr Yumika Kadota went public with her grievances working at Sydney’s Bankstown Hospital as a surgical trainee.

Regardless of the legitimacy of Dr Kadota’s claims, there is no doubt teaching via humiliation among some doctors remains an issue.

But it is also a statement of fact that generational change in attitudes about interpersonal interactions and greater competition for limited training places have occurred in parallel with a substantial demographic change within the medical workforce. Medical graduates are now majority female, reflecting the superior academic achievement of the fairer sex.

Multiple studies have confirmed women medicos suffer higher rates of anxiety and depression than their male counterparts. Most worryingly, the suicide rate among female doctors is now equal to their male colleagues, despite men being three times more likely to suicide in the wider community. This is a tragedy and the reasons for this are complex and incorporate multiple factors.

However it is also reasonable to question whether there are unique factors in the interface of being female and the hospital workplace that are contributing to a more sensitive environment.

In 2015 there were four suicides in the space of several weeks in Geelong among predominantly female doctors. Earlier this year junior doctors at Sunshine hospital took legal action for overwork and a failure to fulfill training requirements.

At Sydney’s prestigious Royal Prince Alfred the cardio-thoracic unit had its training privileges suspended due to bullying allegations by a female trainee. A similar fate befell the Intensive Care Unit at Westmead last year also due to allegations surrounding bullying and harassment.

Professor Dietz is surely stating a fact that the medical workforce is more ‘vulnerable’. As doctors should know, all possibilities including uncomfortable ones must be considered for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

The most recent Hans Dietz episode has much in common with the James Damore controversy at Google. As a reminder, Damore wrote an email expressing a scientific truth that a statistically-higher proportion of males were likely to have an aptitude for the technical work at Google. This was not a comment that women were less capable, but did aim to question the company’s diversity policies.

But like Dietz, Damore was fired for touching on gender sensitivities, even if what he said was well considered and had a scientific foundation.

Perhaps what Dietz said was less considered, but arguably just as true. He should never have been fired for hurting some of the sensitivities of his colleagues, a view shared by a midwife patient Jane Turnnidge. ‘To dismiss someone as talented and vital to the profession over what amounts to a trivial matter of hurt feelings flies in the face of freedom of speech, logic, commonsense and rationality,’ she said in comments to Nine newspapers.

The novel and increasingly outdated practice of debate is more appropriate.

Doctors have traditionally been conservative. But the combination of feminisation, a greater proportion employed by the public sector and an intellectual narrowing via marked specialisation have combined to place the profession at the forefront of the leftist drift of educated professionals.

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