A gynaecologist told a patient her vagina was ‘nice’ and ‘looked Australian’. But he will still be allowed to practise.
A Melbourne gynaecologist who told a patient her vagina was “nice” and looked “just like an Australian one” will not have his registration cancelled.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Rudolph Gerad Lopes made the sexualised comments to a patient during an internal examination in 2017, a tribunal heard.
Before performing the examination, Dr Lopes said words to the effect: “Ha, I didn’t even have to buy you dinner first”.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal also heard Dr Lopes made sexualised comments to a colleague over several years, including: “Do you want a shag?”, “Can I see your vagina? Pretty pretty please?” and “Can I please do your Pap smears? Mates’ rates just for you”.
He also sent the colleague a text message including “xx”, gave her multiple hugs, drew his arm across her breast, touched her skin on her back and stomach, undid her bra strap and looked down her shirt.
The psychological impact on her was profound, and she wore loose clothes, long pants and high tops to avoid his unwanted attention, the tribunal heard.
VCAT reprimanded Dr Lopes on Monday and found him guilty of professional misconduct.
The 50-year-old has been suspended by the Medical Board of Australia since March 2018 after allegations from the women were reported.
Dr Lopes conceded his comments to his patient were “completely inappropriate, unbefitting for a doctor-patient consultation and entirely unnecessary”.
“They were silly and it was his attempt at humour to try to keep the patient at ease,” his lawyer submitted.
The comments, made in the presence of a female nurse chaperone, led to his job being terminated.
Dr Lopes also conceded his behaviour towards his colleague was “inappropriate, unprofessional, crass, vulgar and have no place in any workplace”.
He argued, through his lawyers, his conduct did not amount to professional misconduct, and if it did, he was now rehabilitated.
VCAT members said the sexual harassment was unacceptable and occurred in a workplace where Dr Lopes was in control.
“There is no doubt the remarks were substantially below the standard reasonably expected of such a practitioner,” they said.
“The employee (was) in a particularly vulnerable position, with the doctor having no understanding of the impact his behaviour had on her, and she feeling unable to make her concerns known to him in an effective way.”
However, the tribunal noted Dr Lopes had paid a “heavy price” for the humiliation and publicity associated with his conduct.
They said it was unrealistic for him to expect to return to private practice and he told the tribunal he did not intend to.
The medical board wanted Dr Lopes’ registration cancelled to show the seriousness of his conduct and preserve the profession’s reputation.
However, VCAT ruled that cancelling his registration would be “punitive” given the three-and-a-half years he had already been suspended.
They added Dr Lopes would be subject to supervision conditions in the future.
“We do not see that there is an appreciable risk to the public, or to those with whom Dr Lopes would work in the future, if permitted to resume practice. We say this mindful any return would not be unrestricted,” the members said.
The tribunal will determine the conditions that should be placed on his registration after hearing submissions from both sides.