(April 12, 2001, Gazette)
violence against women
Dr. Cheri Bethune
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
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. Johns
area are usually brought to the Health Sciences Centre, where
the family doctor on-call will offer support and provide the
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
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
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
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 weve
been able to do that, and weve 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.
Its important to constantly nurture the interest
in preventing violence against women and promote awareness professionally
and publicly of the issues involved.