Two med students sue college for ‘forced transvaginal probes’

The two female students said they were told “embarrassing” procedure was voluntary, but learned of other stipulations after enrolling in the program.

ORLANDO, Fla. (MEDIA GENERAL) – Two students have filed a federal lawsuit against Valencia College, alleging they were forced to submit to transvaginal probes as part of their classroom training to learn how to perform the medical procedure, raising ethical questions on the value of medical training on fellow students.

Details of the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, lists Maureen Bugnacki, Linda Shaheen and Barbara Ball as defendants, as well as Valencia College in Orlando, Florida. Ball is the Program Chair for the Valencia College Medical Diagnostic Sonography program, while Shaheen is a clinical lab coordinator and Bugnacki is a lab technician.

According to the lawsuit, students were told in orientation that undergoing transvaginal ultrasound procedures would help them gain valuable knowledge of how to conduct the procedures, but it was strictly voluntary. After enrolling in courses, the plaintiffs allege they were forced to submit to the examination of their sexual organs under threat of having their grades reduced or being “blacklisted” by future employers.

On its website, Valencia College makes no mention of transvaginal probes in its course description for successfully completing the program.

The lawsuit alleges students would “disrobe in a restroom, drape themselves in towels, and traverse the sonography classroom in full view of instructors and other students. … A student would place a condom over the probe and then apply generous amounts of lubrication to the probe. In some cases, the student would have to sexually ‘stimulate’ plaintiffs in order to facilitate inserting the probe into plaintiffs’ vaginas.”

In addition to the “discomfort and embarrassment” of undergoing the procedures, the lawsuit alleges one defendant made inappropriate remarks to students, as well.

Ball is accused of making a perceived sexual advance against one of the students. During a probing session, she allegedly told one student she was “sexy” and should be an “escort girl.”

Valencia College said it could not comment on the lawsuit because the school has yet to be served, but stood by its program and methods.

“The use of volunteers – including fellow students – for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice. Valencia College’s sonography program has upheld the highest standards with respect to ultrasound scanning for educational purposes, including voluntary participation and professional supervision by faculty in a controlled laboratory setting. Nonetheless, we continue to review this practice and others to ensure that they are effective and appropriate for the learning environment.”

Catherine Probst, senior media relations specialist with the Association of American Medical Colleges, notes Valencia College is not a medical school and would not comment directly on the case but counters Valencia’s claim that transvaginal probing on students could be considered a “nationally accepted practice.”

Said Probst: “As far as medical schools are concerned, students learn skills for the more sensitive exams through a combination of medical mannequins in simulation labs and standardized patients who have been trained and have given their consent to play a role in the teaching of physical exam skills.”

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