Let a fellow student conduct an “invasive” transvaginal ultrasound on you while your teacher calls you “sexy” and suggests you should be an “escort girl,” or be “blacklisted” from working at local hospitals. That is the choice sonography students at Valencia College, a community college in central Florida, allegedly faced, according to a lawsuit filed last week by two former students.
While asking students to participate voluntarily in certain procedures is not uncommon in education programs, medical professionals told TPM, forcing them to do so goes against established standards of the medical education field.
The lawsuit alleges Valencia College officials unconstitutionally forced students in its medical sonography program to submit to the “extremely invasive and often painful” transvaginal ultrasound procedure. The plaintiffs were threatened with academic and professional punishment when they brought up their concerns, including the presence of a male student who would be performing the procedure on them, the suit says.
The plaintiffs allege that one of the defendants, the program’s chair Barbara Ball, told the students to “find another school” if they didn’t want to participate in the exams. Another one of the defendants, Maureen Bugnacki, a laboratory technician at the college, allegedly threatened to “blacklist” the students at local hospitals if they did not undergo the procedures, the lawsuit says.
A second-year student known as the “TransVag Queen,” according to the suit, told students during orientation that the faculty preferred students undergo the probes themselves when learning about the procedure.
During the practice exams, plaintiffs said that they would take their clothes off in a restroom, cover themselves with towels and then traverse the classroom to the sonography stations “in full view” of the students and teachers.
The procedure in question involves inserting an ultrasound transducer or a “probe” into a woman’s vaginal canal. The suit described the probes as being large — requiring lubrication before insertion — and that generally, women who have not had sexual intercourse or those with “small vaginal orifices” are not recommended to undergo the examination.
“Valencia’s established and widespread policy was to browbeat students who did not consent to those invasive probes and threaten Plaintiffs’ academic standing as well as their future careers until the students complied,” the lawsuit claimed.
The lawsuit further alleged that insertion of the transducer sometimes required plaintiffs to be sexually stimulated by other students, the suit said, and plaintiffs experienced “discomfort and embarrassment each time they had to endure this forced probing of their sexual organs.”
The lawsuit calls into question the motives of forcing students to undergo the exams, claiming that Ball, the program chair, called a student “sexy” and suggested she could be an “escort girl” while she was undergoing the procedure.
The school appears to have ended its practice of conducting transvaginal exams on students once the plaintiffs’ lawyers got involved, the lawsuit says. However, Ball, and Linda Shaheen — Valencia’s clinical and laboratory coordinator and the lawsuit’s third defendant — along with other instructors have “conspired to have students petition” the school to bring back the practice of having students practice on other students, according to the plaintiffs.
In a statement to CNN, Valencia said it would not comment on the specific lawsuit, but defended its policy of having students practice on other students.
“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,” Carol Traynor, the college’s public relations director, said to CNN. “Nonetheless, we continue to review this practice and others to ensure that they are effective and appropriate for the learning environment.”
The plaintiffs said they were unable to find another sonography program that had students conducting transvaginal exams on other students. It’s unclear how common it is for students to be used as practice models in sonography education.
“We do not have any data regarding the number of programs that might be performing transvaginal examinations using student models or other volunteers in their scan lab setting,” said Cindy Weiland, executive director of the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, in an email to TPM.
Medical professionals say, however, that students should not be coerced into undergoing such practice exams. Guidelines issued by Weiland’s committee provide that, “the program must ensure voluntary and prudent use of students or other human subjects for non-clinical scanning. Students’ grades and evaluations must not be affected by participation or non-participation.”
Read the full lawsuit below: