Why did I write that story yesterday?
Several conversations brought it back to mind. One was with Steph Cooper, the ER doc I mentioned, who told me about the piece she wrote on “ethical crises in clinical care.” (I am still waiting for the link Steph to share it here and increase your readership.) A second was with some faculty and students with whom I am working to address needed development of our “learning environment.” We have ongoing discussions about how to make it safe for students, staff, faculty, and residents to report what they perceive as unprofessional behavior, abuse, or mistreatment. Even defining what is abuse and mistreatment or unprofessional behavior is fraught with large gray zones. Add to that the differential ranks and our students often don’t feel they can directly give feedback to someone who is going to grade them, especially before the grade is submitted.
I understand that vulnerability and that is why we are creating many avenues for conversation and/or reporting. At the same time, maybe all people have a line in the sand where, if crossed, they would be willing to stand up in the moment and speak. Many ethical dilemmas are much smaller than the story I told yesterday and some are larger. Each asks us as individuals to make a determination whether to stand, where to stand, how to stand, speak and walk, and about the direction action or inaction will take us as individuals and as communities.
These challenges happen in everyone’s lives. I will have some more examples from clinical care over the next few days. Please, share ones you have faced.
Maria did not have tubal ligation surgery that day. My colleague and I definitely wondered if we were outliers, which is what the chief resident wanted us to believe. I have no way of knowing how other students would have responded, but would have liked to believe, would still like to believe that my classmates and others would have the same response that we had.
In those days, at that hospital, the on-call attending faculty doctor was not always in the operating room with the chief resident. He was however in the hospital.
One of us stayed in the operating room, threatening to lie across Maria and prevent the surgery. The other went to call and find the attending doctor and report the incident. He came immediately, stayed for the cesarean section, and told the chief that he could not perform a tubal ligation. He later spoke with us individually and with the chief resident, making it clear that this incident could not be repeated and that the impact on our performance evaluation from this incident would be neutral from the chief’s perspective and positive from his.