MY 2016 YOUTUBE VIDEO WAS IRRESPONSIBLE. AND I DIDN’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY…
AN APOLOGY TO SOUTH AFRICA’S JUNIOR DOCTORS
AN APOLOGY TO SOUTH AFRICA’S JUNIOR DOCTORS
from Yumna Moosa
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In January 2017 I appeared before a Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) inquiry, and played the above recording of a conversation with my supervisor at Addington Hospital. In the recording he threatens me with arrest if I don’t throw away my internship logbook containing comments about his colleagues’ inappropriate behaviour. My supervisor can be heard instructing me to lie about what happened, and saying he will blackmail me with that lie if I try to retract it. He threatens me with being bankrupted in court for a critical email to an HOD (VIEW), sent alongside the logbook, which he says constitutes sexual harassment of the HOD.
This recording is part of a small mountain of evidence I submitted to the HPCSA after the KZN Department of Health tried to make me repeat my medical internship training on absurdly false grounds. There seemed a clear case for charges of professional misconduct against at least two of the Addington doctors involved to deter future abuse.
But the HPCSA has since informed me that I was mistaken. In South Africa, in 2017, senior doctors are allowed to threaten junior doctors into committing fraud and sabotage junior doctors’ careers if they refuse. The committee didn’t bother disputing what had happened; only my assumption that the behavior was unacceptably unprofessional (see ‘DID MY COMPETENCE MATTER?‘). They have now closed the enquiry, stating that my supervisors “remain ethical, clinical (sic) and professional”. The HPCSA chairperson also criticised me for being “a free speaker“, “too friendly“, “too open-minded” and “too bright“.
My former HOD and my supervisor were responding to comments I made in my logbook about harassment, and unavailability of senior staff after hours. I made it clear that I wanted only to provide constructive feedback but as the situation escalated my attempts at amicable resolution were met with relentless attacks. It seems I had unwittingly touched a sensitive nerve – the abuse of commuted overtime by senior doctors at the hospital (see ‘WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?‘).
I sought help from leadership throughout the Provincial and National Departments of Health. So far the DOH’s only action has been to aggressively defend the Addington doctors in a CCMA arbitration. I had no legal representation and the department succeeded in having my case dismissed on procedural grounds when I had to present a paper at a conference on the last day of the hearings.
Meanwhile the bullying at Addington has gotten worse. Since I left in 2015 at least two more interns have had their careers severely disrupted after raising complaints. Pushing back seems to have only made the management more aggressive, organised, and brazen.
In 2016 I posted a YouTube video with a watered-down, less-insane report of what happened to me at Addington. I left out the worst parts because I thought demonising individuals would distract from the bigger picture. I called on other junior doctors to stand up to bullies in the medical hierarchy.
I WANT TO RETRACT WHAT I SAID AND APOLOGISE FOR SPEAKING RECKLESSLY.
The institutions that govern medical practice in South Africa are not prepared to support you. They demonstrate little commitment to the modern, humane standards of conduct that our generation was promised. If you stand up you will be on your own, your only option will be to fight in court, and you will suffer harm to your career. I was in a privileged position with other career options and a family that could support me. Others I’ve been in contact with are not nearly so lucky. And I don’t know anyone who’s met with success.
THIS WEBSITE IS A CALL FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF ACTION.
We are still at the beginning of a long journey. We live in a constitutional democracy, and I want to believe that leaders in our health establishment can be held to account by citizens, including doctors. This is about more than just individual trauma. For the sake of our health systems, our society and our profession, please join me in asking for updated professional guidelines that explicitly discourage coercion and intimidation of junior doctors (see ‘WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?‘ and ‘HOW TO HELP‘).
(Further disclosure: I’m working as a doctor again. Last year I began a career in genomics research, and am continuing this part time while I complete my community service year. See ‘On giving medicine a (last) chance‘ in ‘UPDATES’ for details.)
10 June, 2017
See ‘WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?‘ for more…