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(April 12, 2001, Gazette)

Raising awareness about
violence against women

Dr. Cheri BethuneHSIMS Photo
Dr. Cheri Bethune

By Sharon Gray

Dr. Cheri Bethune, Family Medicine, is part of a team of doctors at Memorial who are trained to deal with victims of sexual assault. The program was initially developed by Dr. John Ross, now deceased, to offer medical and forensic exams to women who had been sexually assaulted.

“When I came on faculty in 1984, our group of family doctors took on that responsibility and we all learned how to collect the forensic evidence,” said Dr. Bethune. “Dr. Ross had developed a kit in conjunction with the police, the pathologist and the province, and that developmental work made it as simple as possible for family doctors to use.”

Women who have been sexually assaulted in the St. John’s area are usually brought to the Health Sciences Centre, where the family doctor on-call will offer support and provide the necessary examination.

But the work done to help women experiencing violence goes beyond crisis assistance. Dr. Bethune said the members of the Discipline of Family Medicine strongly believe that each resident (a medical graduate doing post-graduate training) should be taught how to do sexual assault assessment. “They require knowledge about the needs the victims have, as well as the procedural skills to collect adequate forensic evidence and give potential testimony in court.”

Dr. Bethune and colleague Dr. Pauline Duke have developed a seminar for family medicine residents to teach these skills, and residents on-call also accompany the physician dealing with the sexual assault victim in order to learn about the experience first-hand. Seminars are also held with residents in obstetrics/gynecology. “Every resident who leaves our program has some sense of confidence about addressing the issues of sexual assault and violence against women.”

Dr. Bethune is also involved in educating undergraduate medical students about these issues. With Dr. Duke, she developed a full-day program exploring the issues surrounding violence against women. The program was initially run for all four years of medical students as a group, but because of curricular change in 1996, it is now presented annually to the second-year class. “This year it will be expanded to a day-and-a-half program, which allows students enough time to get into a sensitive topic area and not be upset.”

Dr. Bethune feels that issues involving violence against women should be integrated into every area of the medical school curriculum, but she realizes that not all faculty members are comfortable with, or fully aware of, the issues to integrate them into their teaching.

“My goal is to make sure that all physicians leave their training with a better understanding of the impact of violence on women. Certainly with the family medicine residents we’ve been able to do that, and we’ve also integrated this issue into the clinical skills teaching in first-year, and through the program in second-year.”

Outside of the university, Dr. Bethune has been involved in an inter-agency group looking at ways to improve services for battered and assaulted women, and prevent to further violence. She has worked with the Rape Crisis Centre to help train nursing assistants to help family physicians collect forensic evidence. But she notes that three years after doing this, only one volunteer remains. “It’s important to constantly nurture the interest in preventing violence against women and promote awareness professionally and publicly of the issues involved.”

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