Students: School Forced Us To "Volunteer" For Transvaginal Ultrasounds

Photo: BSIP/Getty Images.
It's not completely unreasonable to think that medical training might involve a stint here or there as a volunteer subject, but imagine having to get an invasive ultrasound — week after week — and being told it's just a part of your program. That's what two Florida women are alleging in a lawsuit they filed last week against Valencia College, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In the lawsuit, the women say they were told they had to volunteer to receive transvaginal ultrasounds from their classmates repeatedly, and that the head of their sonography program told them to “find another school if they did not wish to be probed,” the Washington Post reported. According to the lawsuit, it was made clear during orientation that teachers believed students should have the procedure because it would help them be better at their jobs.

Transvaginal ultrasounds involve a wand-like probe that a medical provider inserts into a woman's vagina; it's an effective tool for checking pregnancies and for medical issues, but it's also intrusive and potentially uncomfortable or painful, and it could trigger survivors of sexual violence. They have also been used in political battles over abortion; in 2012, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell tried to require all women who wanted an abortion to get a transvaginal ultrasound, even if it wasn't medically necessary.

If the basic details of the lawsuit aren't horrible enough, it also claims that the women were threatened with bad grades and limited job prospects at Florida hospitals if they didn't go along with the practice. And, because retaliation against individuals who make complaints isn't enough, the suit also says that during one already awkward practice session, the female head of the program said the woman being probed was "sexy" and should be an "escort girl."

Valencia College released a statement to the media on Monday, but the public affairs office did not respond to our questions. Says the release: “The use of volunteers — including fellow students — for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice. Valencia’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.”

According to the former students' lawsuit, Valencia has stopped using student "volunteers" after the school heard from their lawyers. If the practice is more widespread than just this one school, hopefully this suit will make it easier for people to speak out about it and encourage schools to come up with less coercive training methods.



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