A recent enactment of the law to improve the working conditions of medical residents has failed to curb violence and sexual molestations against trainee physicians.
Instead, a flurry of reports to the health authorities by victim residents has prompted a public discussion of the issue.
As of Wednesday, six training hospitals are under the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s investigation for being involved in violence and sexual harassment against trainee physicians.
Among the six, physical assaults occurred at four -- Chonbuk National University Hospital, Hanyang University Seoul Hospital, Sahmyook Medical Center and Pusan National University Hospital. The other two – Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital and Gangnam Severance Hospital -- are being probed for sexual molestation.
Chonbuk National University Hospital is the only training hospital among the six that received an administrative punishment from the ministry. A complaint filed with the ministry by a victim trainee at Chonbuk Hospital’s orthopedics department in June led the issue exposed to the public. The trainee physician revealed pictures of bruises on the legs, claiming that the victim was repeatedly beaten by a senior resident for four months from November 2016.
After receiving the complaint, the ministry probed the hospital and confirmed the case. The ministry further uncovered the hospital’s illegal acts such as letting senior residents falsely make documents needed for the assessment of training environment, and arbitrarily order trainees to be on night duties.
Consequently, the ministry ordered the Chonbuk hospital to reduce the number of medical residents and slapped a 1 million won ($887) fine. It was the ministry’s first administrative measure since the Act for the Improvement of Training Conditions and Status of Medical Residents took effect in December.
The authorities are also investigating Sahmyook Medical Center after receiving a report of violence between a trainee and a senior resident at the hospital’s family medicine department.
At Hanyang University Seoul Hospital, a professor of plastic surgery has reportedly assaulted and verbally abused trainees. Under the extreme stress, two trainee physicians took absence without permission which later came under the media’s spotlight. The ministry said it learned about the case via news reports and is now investigating the hospital.
|Photo shows the bruised leg of a medical resident, who was assaulted by a professor at the orthopedics department of Pusan National University Hospital. (Credit: Rep. Yoo Eun-hye of the Democratic Party of Korea)|
A Pusan National University Hospital professor’s two-year-long assaults against 11 medical residents were also belatedly revealed through news reports recently. The professor at the orthopedics department reportedly attacked them regardless of time and place. One of the victims had an eardrum ruptured, and some residents helped one another to suture the wounds, according to local reports.
The issue of violence against medical residents has become so grave that a lawmaker presented the Pusan hospital’s case at a parliamentary audit.
Rep. Yoo Eun-hye of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea revealed the pictures of bruised legs of a victim trainee, who was assaulted by the professor, at the audit of national university hospitals managed by the Ministry of Education, on Oct. 24.
“The education ministry should begin a special investigation to check the facts and punish all the people involved,” Yoo said.
Sexual molestation is also prevalent in training hospitals. Two female residents at Gangnam Severance Hospital’s obstetrics/gynecology department left the hospital in September, after being sexually molested by a professor. A Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital professor has also sexually molested and harassed female trainee physicians routinely, according to a complaint filed at the health and welfare ministry.
According to a survey by the Korean Intern Resident Association on trainee physicians at 66 training hospitals in April, sexual harassment or molestation occurred in 57 hospitals. All of the respondents said seniors have physically attacked them at least once.
The health and welfare ministry said it plans to take proper administrative measures after investigating all of the training hospitals involved in violence or sexual harassment.
“Training of interns and residents is important to nurture medical professionals. Training should never allow inhumane treatments such as physical assaults,” a ministry official said. “To prevent the recurrence of inhumane incidents, we will review how to punish the training hospitals involved in violence and sexual molestation at the ministry’s Committee for Assessment of Training Conditions.”
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