A Florida college that allegedly forced students to perform vaginal ultrasounds on each other as part of a medical training program has permanently banned the practice.
Valencia State College's president announced Tuesday the school's medical diagnostic sonography program would "permanently discontinue the use of student volunteers for transvaginal ultrasound scanning." The move comes after two students filed a federal lawsuit claiming college administrators threatened to lower their grades and blacklist them in the medical community if they didn't consent to the exams.
"Following a comprehensive external investigation and a thorough internal review, we identified teaching methods that employ sophisticated simulators and have decided to permanently discontinue the use of student volunteers for transvaginal ultrasound scanning," President Sandy Shugart said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed by two students who were enrolled in 2013 in the competitive sonography program, claimed that during orientation, a second-year student nicknamed the "TransVag Queen" explained they should undergo transvaginal ultrasound procedures to become better technicians.
"During orientation, the clients were told that these were voluntary procedures. However, as time went on, it became very clear that they were not voluntary," Christopher Dillingham, a civil rights attorney in Winter Park, Florida, who represents the plaintiffs, told NBC News last week.
The students allege they had to have the procedures done regularly, including by a male student — even though the school had anatomically correct simulators on which they could practice. Students also had clinical practice at hospitals, where they performed the same procedures on actual patients.
Shugart said the sonography program gives students a chance to practice skills "in discreet and supervised laboratory settings," but said participation in voluntary transvaginal ultrasound scans was suspended last summer after a student complaint.
While the use of student volunteers has now been permanently banned, Shugart said that a third-party expert who reviewed the program found it was done "safely, professionally, and respectfully while maintaining the private and voluntary nature of student participation."
A 2012 study on first-year medical students' willingness to participate in peer physical exams found that attitudes vary, depend on what region of the body was being studied. "Low-sensitivity examinations," such as hands or the head, were generally accepted, but there were differences depending on the gender of the student and the gender of the examination partner.
According to Jamila Vernon, a spokeswoman at the Association of American Medical Colleges, most medical students "learn skills for the more sensitive exams through a combination of medical mannequins in simulation labs and standardized patients who have been trained and have given their consent to play a role in the teaching of physical exam skills."
Dillingham, the students' attorney, did not immediately return a call from NBC News on Wednesday.