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Northern Ontario School of Medicine denies suspending doctor because she filed sexual harassment complaint

'I want to cooperate, but I’m scared,' says Dr. Ana Safavi
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FILE PHOTO: Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) Sudbury campus. Sudbury.com

Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) is denying allegations that it suspended a doctor from its internal medicine residency program because she claimed to have been sexually harassed by a faculty leader in her training program.

“I came here to learn and to treat patients. Practising medicine is what I love. But when the persistent harassment I have experienced at NOSM escalated to sexual harassment, I knew I had to come forward,” said Dr. Ana Safavi in a news release issued Wednesday through Toronto public relations firm Daisy Group.

In a response issued Wednesday night, Dr. Roger Strasser, the medical school's founding dean and chief executive officer, said NOSM "strongly refutes any claim that NOSM suspended Dr. Safavi for coming forward and reporting claims of sexual harassment. NOSM’s policy requires that sexual harassment complaints be treated confidentially, and until our investigation into this matter is complete, NOSM will not be commenting further."

In her news release, Safavi said she was suspended Feb. 2 while on a work placement in the emergency department at Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury.

"The hospital was not consulted in the decision and has no say in her re-instatement," the release states.

The release quotes Dr. Chris Bourdon, a former chief of staff at the hospital and currently vice president of medical and academic affairs, as saying: "Ana is beloved by patients, nurses, and physicians alike. She represents the very best of HSN."

"Dr. Safavi credits her HSN family for giving her the courage to speak up, and the #MeToo movement for raising her awareness of how institutional cultures can enable harassment by silencing victims," the news release states. "She hopes that NOSM will emulate HSN's proactive approach to culture change."

The release quotes from a letter that it says NOSM sent to Dr. Safavi, advising "your return to work is conditional upon you providing, in writing, a list of safe and unsafe workplaces based on where you might reasonably expect to encounter the alleged harasser.”

She was also advised to engage in "reflection and self-care,” the release claims.

Safavi says that providing the requested list of places would allow the school to identify her alleged harasser.

"I want to cooperate, but I’m scared," she says. "There is a lot at stake here, and before I name him, I just want to make sure that there is a transparent and fair process for everybody involved."

Safavi wants her allegations to be examined by an experienced and independent third-party investigator. 

She's demanding immediate reinstatement to the internal medicine residency program, but is also concerned about fairness of NOSM’s process and the possibility of recrimination for raising her voice.

"The Northern Ontario School of Medicine does not tolerate sexual harassment and is committed to ensuring the safety of our learners, staff and faculty," said Dr. Strasser.

"We treat allegations of sexual harassment very seriously, and will do everything necessary to ensure that any allegations brought forward are dealt with thoroughly."