The Research Page

Grad student interviews female patients about doctors

Inappropriate relationships

(June 3, 1999, Gazette)

By Karen Shewbridge

Inappropriate behaviour and sexual comments, lack of choice in physicians, and long waits in doctors' offices, are some of the experiences of the women who participated in a recent graduate study at Memorial University.

Women's Studies grad student Agnieszka Kosny interviewed 20 women of all ages to discuss the positive and negative aspects of their relationships with their doctors.

Six of the 20 women involved in the study told Ms. Kosny about incidents of improper behaviour from their doctors, both sexual and non-sexual. In two cases, women were speaking about the same male physician.

Ms. Kosny said of all of the results to come out of her study, the sexual misconduct surprised her the most.

"I didn't ask them specifically about sexual abuse at all. I just asked them about negative experiences and positive experiences," she said. "The questions were very general and open-ended."

Ms. Kosny said that none of the women reported the abuse, either due to a lack of knowledge about the official reporting procedure, or not having the desire to go through a process which entailed repeatedly discussing the abuse with others.

"An example would be a woman being asked to take off her shirt and her bra and then having her breasts fondled and the doctor making suggestive comments about her breasts."

Ms. Kosny stressed that none of the incidents involved rape or sexual intercourse and most women changed doctors after the events occurred.

"Because a lot of the women had lived in smaller urban centres around Newfoundland and even some in Labrador, I think they had the experience of not always having access to go to see the physician of their choice," said Ms. Kosny.

She said that in some cases women wanted to see a female doctor for gynecological exams but there weren't any available in their community, so they had to see a male physician.

"A lot of women talked about waiting in doctors' offices and how besides being a frustration, it really spoke to the devaluation of women's time. There was no consideration of how this woman has probably a family, a job, all these things. Women were in an office and they were expected to wait for 45 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half," said Ms. Kosny.

Ms. Kosny pointed out that this wasn't only happening in hospital waiting rooms, but in doctors' offices where the women had made an appointment and still were required to wait without any sort of apology, medical emergency, or recognition that their time was valuable too.

Education was also a factor in the study. Ms. Kosny divided the participants into two groups those with high school education and those who were university educated. High school educated women were often concerned that a physician wasn't being honest with them and seemed less confident in demanding information when they had questions or were experiencing a negative interaction with their doctor.

University educated women were more likely to expect the doctor to personalize their treatment to fit their individual needs. They also expected physicians to trust their judgement.

Contrary to the popular belief that patients usually want prescriptions from their physicians, Ms. Kosny said the women in this study were more interested in getting information and answers, and did not expect a prescription for antibiotics or other medication as a band-aid solution to their health problems.

Agnieszka Kosny has come a long way from her birthplace in Poland, to growing up in Toronto, doing an undergrad degree at McGill in Montreal, and now completing her master's at Memorial. But she loves Newfoundland and is happy to have had the opportunity to work with women here.

Ms. Kosny said she became attracted to Memorial's Women's Studies program while she was a student at McGill, because it appeared interesting and there did not seem to be many such programs in Canada.

Ms. Kosny feels that if she had attempted the same study in Montreal, most of the subjects would have been urban and she is not sure she would have received the open and honest cooperation she received from women at the Community Centres she visited in this province.

Ms. Kosny believes the results of this study can be used as a resource for medical schools, health care providers, policy makers, and other researchers. She says the female patients have clearly identified specific problems within the doctor/patient relationship and gaps in the knowledge surrounding patients' rights and complaints procedures.