Survey: 14.5% of U med students mistreated

The U's Med School is below the national rate of about 17 percent.

Survey: 14.5% of U med students mistreated

Kathryn Elliott

At the University of Minnesota Medical School 14.5 percent of students who took a 2010 survey reported experiencing personal mistreatment during their time at the school. The rate was 8.6 percent in 2009 and 13.9 percent the year prior.

Nationally the mistreatment rate is 16.9 percent. Of those mistreated, 23 percent nationally said theyâÄôd been required to go shopping, babysit or perform other services for a supervisor âÄî and about 9 percent said theyâÄôd experienced an unwanted sexual advance in school. Most didnâÄôt report it for fear of retaliation.

Kathleen Watson, associate dean for students and student learning, said more reporting of mistreatment, mostly verbal harassment, in the medical school shows that studentsâÄô awareness has fine-tuned.

Watson, the chairwoman of a committee that meets with mistreated students, said the most common form of abuse she sees is âÄúbelittling,âÄù or being made to feel ashamed because of a comment.

The national average for the medical school students who report mistreatment was 16.9 percent in the 2010 survey, administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. That figure was nearly the same reaching back to 2007, when it was 14.5 percent.

Nationally, 50 percent of the mistreated students said they had âÄúoccasionallyâÄù been publicly belittled or humiliated. Thirty-one percent of these said it had happened âÄúonceâÄù and 5 percent said âÄúfrequently.âÄù

Watson said the medical school takes these events very seriously. âÄúWe try to be very proactive,âÄù she said, âÄúand simply will not tolerate the behavior that we have any ability to control.âÄù

Chris Thompson, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Minnesota, said he doesnâÄôt think the University is managing the issue of harassment effectively.

Thompson compared the public humiliation that he and some of his friends have experienced to domestic abuse because medical students are dependent on their supervisorsâÄô approval.

âÄúItâÄôs a culture that values performance and punishes poor performance with personal humiliation,âÄù he said.

The University dealt with other complaints of mistreatment this spring, brought on by an accreditation survey from 2010.

The most abnormal results from that survey were from Duluth, where five students âÄî or 12 percent of the medical schoolâÄôs first-year class âÄî reported feeling mistreated.

Phillip Radke, president of the UniversityâÄôs Medical Student Council, helped write the campus survey, which was part of the accreditation process for the Medical School. When he saw that the response from Duluth was higher than normal, he recommended that the medical school administration investigate further.

âÄúI wasnâÄôt alarmed per se, but I thought it was interesting,âÄù Radke said.

RadkeâÄôs concern echoed down the medical schoolâÄôs chain of command, starting a series of interventions. Initially, Gary Davis, the regional Medical School dean for Duluth, met with the student vice president of the first-year class. When that didnâÄôt yield more information, the student representative met with the class to seek details, but those who had reported mistreatment remained silent.

In the end, Davis met with the first-year class himself and invited students to stop by his office, send an email or call an anonymous tip line.

âÄúDisappointingly, [only] one person came to my office who had reported it,âÄù Davis said.

That student told Davis that during her clinical rotation, her supervisor at a community clinic outside of the University made inappropriate comments about her race in fall 2010. The studentâÄôs University clinical instructor immediately switched her to another supervisor.

A second student, who had not reported mistreatment on the survey, emailed Davis about a University faculty member whose attitude was âÄúuncaringâÄù or âÄútough,âÄù Davis said.

âÄúSome kinds of mistreatment you get a lot more alarmed about than others,âÄù Davis said.

Thompson said he has heard about friends being ostracized during their clinical rotation after expressing their philosophical and political views. He said one supervisor had made jokingly sexual comments about classmates during a rotation and another blatantly told a medical student who was pregnant that she should stay home.

âÄúRight now the info on data harassment is collected by the University and not shared with Medical Students at all. I would like access to that information,âÄù he said.

âÄúPeople want to be stimulated and challenged but they donâÄôt want to be mistreated,âÄù Thompson said.