The University of Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office has added a new level of expertise by creating a position that will focus on preventing and addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct in health care settings.
Susan Ernst, chief of gynecology and sexual health at University Health Service and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical School, has been appointed U-M’s inaugural medical adviser for sexual and gender-based misconduct.
She will partner on strategic planning, collaboration and leadership between the university and Michigan Medicine regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct prevention, education and reporting of misconduct.
The role was created to further facilitate an environment where the entire campus community — including those who work at and visit U-M’s medical facilities — can study, work, live and receive care free from gender-based misconduct, including sexual harassment and violence.
“Because clinical health care spaces in academic medical centers are complex learning and work environments that are often detached from main campuses, and therefore have their own leadership teams and a unique work culture, universities that also have health systems must be even more intentional in their efforts to prevent and effectively address sexual misconduct in those spaces,” Ernst said.
Ernst will collaborate with ECRT’s Prevention Education, Assistance & Resources to develop and deliver prevention programs, including training programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based misconduct for Michigan Medicine faculty, staff and students. She also will assist with case review and assessment of complaints of sexual harassment or boundary violations in medical settings.
A National Academies of Sciences study highlights how sexual misconduct creates a pervasive barrier for women working and learning in historically male-dominated industries, including academia, and most commonly in science, engineering and medicine.
“This new role is critically important to creating an environment that allows us to provide the best care possible, and an equitable climate for all of those who work and learn at Michigan Medicine,” said Marschall S. Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs, CEO of Michigan Medicine and dean of the Medical School.
Tamiko Strickman, special adviser to the president and executive director of the university’s ECRT Office, said the new role, and specifically Ernst, will help align the university and Michigan Medicine on matters related to sexual misconduct reporting, investigation, response and education.
“Dr. Ernst has decades of experience caring for survivors of sexual misconduct that I believe will help us improve our work in this area,” Strickman said. “Her clinical insight and expertise makes her uniquely qualified to take on such an important role.”
Ernst has been chief of gynecology and sexual health at UHS on the Ann Arbor campus for more than 20 years. Under her leadership, UHS expanded services to offer forensic exams or Sexual Assault Nurse Exams for students, faculty and staff seeking medical treatment following sexual assault. She has led the Campus Sexual Assault Response Team for more than five years, and led a team of researchers studying care for victims of sexual violence and also patients’ experiences with inappropriate, disrespectful and coercive health care.
She directed the Gynecology Clinic for Adolescents and Women with Disabilities at what is now Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital for 18 years, and recently led a task force for the American College Health Association on Best Practices for Sensitive Exams.
Ernst was appointed to a special master panel by the Central District Court in California, joining a federal judge and forensic psychiatrist, to facilitate two settlements for cases of physician sexual misconduct at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
She also is a member of U-M’s Coordinated Community Response Team. The 30-member group was designed to broadly represent the university community, and provide input and advice on future policies, procedures and prevention efforts related to sexual and gender-based misconduct. Leading experts across the country consider CCRTs to be a best practice for colleges and universities that seek to enact serious reform.
“Our goals for my newest role are severalfold,” Ernst said. “Ultimately, organizational systems and structures that value and support diversity, inclusion and respect are environments where sexual misconduct behaviors are less likely to occur.”