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Associate Professor Rhea Liang is a general surgeon with a specialisation in breast surgery, and also works in the area of surgical education.

Join us as we talk about her journey as a surgeon, the Operating With Respect program, and her interest in manual crafts.

About Assoc Prof Rhea Liang

Associate Professor Rhea Liang is a general and breast surgeon on the Gold Coast. She is a surgical educationalist, Surgical Discipline Lead at Bond University, and Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ (RACS) Operating With Respect Education Committee. She also researches and advocates in diversity and equity issues. On multiple occasions (including recently!) she has been told she is unsuited for surgery for a whole range of reasons including being small, being a woman, being too feminine, being not feminine enough, having kids, being an academic, disliking early starts, getting hungry easily, being too outspoken about bullying in surgery, and being not outspoken enough about bullying in surgery. But here she is.


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  • [00:43] Rhea as a fourth-generation doctor
  • [02:55] Rhea's journey to surgical specialisation
  • [03:14] The challenges of surgical specialisation
  • [04:52] The appeal of surgery
  • [05:16] The appeal of the human side of breast surgery
  • [06:05] "Operating With Respect"
  • [06:30] The genesis of the initiative
  • [08:09] Phase 1: Online training module
  • [08:13] 99.99% coverage across the College
  • [08:50] The program is professional development, not punitive
  • [09:55] Phase 2: Face-to-face training (leadership: ~10% completion target)
  • [11:06] International reception of the initiative
  • [12:24] The stereotypes of medical professionals in the media
  • [13:40] The need to refocus on patient outcomes
  • [14:16] Empower people to do their jobs without diminishing others
  • [14:35] "You cannot address disrespect with more disrespect"
  • [16:05] Resistance to, then acceptance of, the need to change the narrative
  • [17:52] Stamina is required, but not to endure bullying and harassment
  • [18:36] Hostile behaviours compromise safety and outcomes in theatre and the ward
  • [19:33] Measuring the success of the program
  • [19:46] "the two-generation rule"
  • [21:38] The results of the first evaluation milestone for the program
  • [24:08] Diversity aids communication: Don't mistake ignorance for malice
  • [27:02] Inclusion is not enough, need to be empowered to engage and be heard
  • [29:29] Developing a middle path for communication between silence and formal escalation
  • [34:39] What interested Rhea in surgical education
  • [38:20] Contributing to the surgical community contributes to the greater community
  • [39:20] What Rhea loves about surgery
  • [41:28] Getting in the "Flow" of the work
  • [42:50] On delivering bad news
  • [45:33] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
  • [45:52] Knitting at a surgical conference
  • [48:04] The parallels of needlework, fishing and surgery
  • [50:27] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
  • [51:16] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
  • [51:23] Being told you're 'unsuited'
  • [52:00] Live a little
  • [53:16] Taking the time to get life experiences
  • [53:39] Having a family is not out of the question
  • [55:06] 'Unsuited' in terms of personal traits, not ability
  • [55:18] On being unsuited to be a surgeon
  • [56:59] Surgery is not just about operating
  • [57:39] Various accessibility considerations in the surgical field
  • [59:41] What is our concept of a 'surgical trainee'?

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Music is “Gypsy Jazz in Paris 1935” by Brett Van Donsel.