Imagine being raped by your senior resident: What would you do?

Do you report it to your supervisors?  Go to the police?  Go to a rape crisis center?  Or would you try to carry on the next day because you are the only one who has certain duties that need to be done? Or do you keep quiet because you are afraid of the negative publicity and treatment that might befall you, your department, and your medical center?

This is not an idle question. This is not a suggestion for a made for TV movie. This is real life drama for some, and nightmare for at least one, now being played out in the courtroom four years after the “incident.”  And Dr. Cynthia Herald, former anesthesia resident, was right.   After being raped by another resident, she reported that rape to officials at the Health Sciences Center.  They listened and even had the meeting recorded professionally with a “court reporter” present.  But that “record” was shredded. As was any hope that this woman, who dared to report her concerns to “officials,” would ever finish her program.

And within a short period of time she went from a  victim to a villain.  Not surprisingly she sought professional counseling.  She received medication to help her through the nightmare.  Her excellent professional performance recorded in the first year continued.  The night after the rape she attended the anesthesia pre-op clinic because she was the only one available.  She was committed to carrying-on.

And then, she was accused of being impaired.   Urine testing failed to confirm this, however they claimed that the test that they performed was done “incorrectly.”  Nonetheless she was abruptly relieved of her duties and terminated.

She is in court with her claims of wrongful termination.

So Dr. Herald goes from rape victim to villain–an impaired physician merely for taking prescribed medications.  She is abruptly removed from her duties and a series of almost farce-like incorrect procedures in order to “prove” that she is impaired.  And then she is terminated.  Her first year of residency was stellar and until the rape she was doing very well.  But the university had to get rid of her.  Too much liability.

It takes incredible strength of character to stand up and fight for your rights.  Dr. Herald could have felt shame that she didn’t do this or didn’t do that after the rape incident.  She could have believed their allegations and let them terminate her without at least a fight. But she didn’t.

It is unlikely that she will ever work again as an anesthesiologist.  And perhaps even as a physician.  Pre-medical preparation, four years of medical school, and two years of training all gone.  And then waiting for the system to take up her claims, another 4 years.  This is beyond outrageous.

Could there be another side to the story?  There is always another side, but as it is emerging in testimony, it is not very flattering or convincing.  Why is the university trying to keep out evidence about the behavior of the alleged rapist?  Why have they previously threatened potential witnesses in other cases when they have found themselves in court?

It is very important for women physicians, especially those lower in the pecking order, such as residents, to be very careful.  Be mindful of the hierarchy, of the rules (written and not), and of the way some institutions and organizations favor the group over the individual and favor form over substance.   Issues of professionalism, accusations of being a disruptive physician, or making claims of unfair treatment can all end in a nasty way.  A victim can easily become the villain.  Let’s hope that for Dr. Herald, she rises to victor.  Good luck, Dr. Herald.

Linda Brodsky is a pediatric surgeon who blogs at Women MD Resources.

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