Medical interns call for investigation into racial abuse by hospital consultants.

A top doctor in Wellington called one of his Maori interns "student" because he couldn't pronounce his name.

Another senior consultant called all his Asian students Bob or Bill, refusing to refer to them by their correct name.

And the same consultant asked a Chinese medical student if he ate dog for dinner and warned another he'd have to quit medicine and work in his parents' takeaway shop.

The consultant has also been accused of telling one Chinese student partway through a surgical procedure that he would send her "back to Hong Kong".


In another complaint, he accused a student of stealing a surgical gown in front of theatre staff.

The claims form part of an explosive dossier of allegations of racism and bullying in hospitals, compiled by the New Zealand Medical Students' Association.

Other complaints include sexual harassment, says the association, which is calling for a full investigation into the allegations.

"Bullying and racism have no place in the 21st century, least of all by people who are supposed to be leaders of the medical profession," association president Elizabeth Berryman said.

Preliminary results from a medical student bullying survey released to the Herald on Sunday showed that 56 per cent of students had reported being the victim of bullying or sexual harassment in the past year while on a clinical placement.

According to the 285 respondents, senior hospital consultants were identified as the largest group of health professionals carrying out the bullying, followed by registrars and nurses.

This comes on the back of a recently-released Resident Doctors' Association survey where one in 10 junior doctors reported being bullied or sexually harassed in the past two years by senior colleagues.

Some of the most serious allegations have already resulted in two female students lodging complaints with universities last week after they claimed they were sexually harassed by consultants in hospitals.


Berryman said the students were from Auckland Medical School, but would not reveal where the consultant was based.

She said students rarely complained for fear of jeopardising their careers.

The NZMSA now wanted medical schools, hospitals and training institutions to encourage the anonymous reporting of bullying, including the creation of a student complaints hotline and incident database.

Chair of the District Health Board Chief Executives Ron Dunham said every DHB would be treating the survey findings seriously.

All boards had zero tolerance for bullying but understood students probably did not feel confident to challenge those in senior positions.

"I think there's probably an opportunity for us to work with medical schools to make sure there is a safe mechanism for them to do that," he said.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said the difficult hospital workplace created an environment of considerable pressure and although this wasn't an excuse for inappropriate behaviour it did create a setting conducive to it.

"I suspect some of these areas of lower levels of inappropriate behaviour are not even seen that way by the perpetrators of it so by raising awareness I think that will go a long way to its reduction."

Powell said workplace bullying was about to be tackled in a nationwide educative initiative.

Resident Doctors' Association national secretary Deborah Powell said the health sector had reached a stage where it acknowledged a bullying culture existed and now it was working on ways to address it.

"Clinical excellence is not the only thing we need in our systems, we also need behavioural competence."

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has called for DHBs to investigate the allegations of racism and bullying.

"I urge DHBs to keep talking with students, to investigate fully and put in place systemic changes to sort it out: we all have a right to be treated with respect and dignity," she said. Dame Susan said racist people do not belong in the country's hospitals.

"People who humiliate and discriminate others because of who they are have no place in our hospitals." She thanked NZMSA for speaking out on racism and bullying.

"If we don't know what the problem is then we can't fix it, that's why speaking out is important.

"It's never easy to call out someone in a position of power who has been humiliating and bullying you so I am grateful to these students and their association for speaking out."