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Documents Show New Side To Transvaginal Lawsuit

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

New documents obtained by 90.7 News show a new side to Valencia’s transvaginal lawsuit case.

Three students are alleging that Valencia violated their constitutional rights by browbeating them to submit to pelvic ultrasounds.

Students performed the tests on one another in the medical sonography program.

Health Reporter Abe Aboraya spoke with Morning Edition Host Nicole Creston.

NICOLE: Let’s start with the basics. What is a transvaginal ultrasound?

ABE: When you think ultrasound, you’re probably thinking pregnant belly, the cold jelly. That’s not this. A transvaginal scan is where the probe is inserted into the vagina to get scans of the uterus, cervix and ovaries, for example.

NICOLE: And that is considered an invasive medical procedure.

ABE: Very. And the flip side of that is if you’re a patient who’s getting the test done because there may be something wrong, you probably don’t want someone learning on you. So some hospitals won’t hire you if you don’t have experience.

NICOLE: According to the documents, Valencia students signed forms saying that they were volunteering as models. And in order to perform the ultrasound you had to allow them to be performed on you.

ABE: Correct. Valencia instructors says this is one of the toughest scans for students to learn how to do, and a simulator just isn’t going to cut it.

NICOLE: This has been common practice at Valencia for a decade. Why a complaint now?

ABE: This is a small, 12-person program, very competitive, and historically all women – until the semester when this complaint arose. There was one male student, and that especially bothered the student who made the initial complaint.

NICOLE: Abe Aboraya, what did this initial complaint say?

ABE: She says the transvaginal exams were painful for her, that she would literally shake with anxiety if she knew it was lab day. She made excuses so she wouldn’t have to be probed. And she says the instructors told students that sonography is a small group of gossipy women, the implication being that it would be impossible to get a job if you got a bad rap in the class.

NICOLE: Abe, these documents also show a side we haven’t heard, and that’s the faculty side of the story. In particular, Linda Shaheen and Barbara Ball, who are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

ABE: Shaheen wrote that she retired from the program because of declining health that was a result of this upcoming lawsuit. Since this has come to light, these professors have been getting hate mail. In a letter to the college president, Shaheen writes that it has been proven time and time again that simulation in sonography is not the answer, and Valencia’s program will become mediocre.

NICOLE: Well how has this affected students?

ABE: Once these allegations came to light, the college immediately stopped allowing students to do transvaginal ultrasounds on one another while an investigation was performed. That has upset some students, including one who wrote that Valencia’s program is the best because of this unconventional practice.

NICOLE: Unconventional. Do other schools have the same practice?

ABE: So far, we’ve been unable to find any national tracking. But what we could find in Florida is that UCF and Broward College do not allow it, but Hillsborough Community College’s program does.

NICOLE: Now Valencia has since announced it will permanently ban the practice.

ABE: Yes, that announcement was made a few weeks ago.


WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.