Support for Dr Ana Safavi

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To whom it may concern,

We are a group of female physicians from across Canada, and are writing this letter in response to the recent press surrounding Dr. Ana Safavi, an internal medicine resident at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). We were angered by what has happened to Dr Safavi, as well as the subsequent response from Dr. Roger Strasser, the dean and founding CEO of NOSM. His response is not surprising but is deeply disappointing. Harassment in general, and sexual harassment in particular, is incredibly common in medical education. Sexual harassment in medicine is a nearly universal experience for female physicians. We endure misogyny, inappropriate sexual comments, inappropriate touching and groping, and sexual assault. Most of us do not report these events for fear of not being believed, of having to face our harassers, or of having the accusations negatively impact our training and future careers. Because of the enormous power differential between staff physicians and medical trainees, we fear that any investigation conducted by the university would be inherently biased. For those of us who have stepped forward and reported, we have been met with disbelief and reprisals. Our ‘anonymous’ complaints are reported to our harassers, and we experience an investigation process that leaves much to be desired.

According to Dr. Strasser’s statement to the press, Dr. Safavi has not been suspended. However, she is also not allowed to work, even in another city, until she lists the places where she might encounter her harasser. Quite rightly, she is worried that this will lead to her harasser being identified, and that an investigation conducted by the university may be biased. While the actions of her program so far may have been with the intention of avoiding her being subjected to further harassment, objectively it looks as though she is being re-victimized and punished by the very institution that should be protecting her. Is there any wonder that she does not want to name names?

In the past several months, there has been a large societal movement towards speaking up about sexual harassment and punishing those responsible. Medicine has thus far been silent, but we cannot be silent anymore. As a large group of female physicians, we are demanding change in how sexual harassment and assault claims are handled. No longer should it be considered ‘brave’ to step forward to say that someone is creating a hostile work environment. We demand a large scale change across the country, at all of our training institutions. We need to institute transparent and fair investigation processes, and ensure support and protection for those who step forward and speak up about harassment. We need to be protecting those who are vulnerable, not having the weight of our academic institutions and governing bodies stand behind an already powerful harasser.

We recognize that the process of change will take time. But Dr. Safavi needs help now. She needs to be reassured that she has the full support of her program, that her allegations are being taken seriously, and that her training and career will not be impacted. We demand that she continue to be paid during her unexpected time off, that her training not be impacted in any way, and that the investigation of her accusations is fair and done by a neutral party.

We are committed to making our academic institutions and workplaces safe and free from harassment, and to holding those responsible accountable for their actions. Together, we can work towards a better future.


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