Sexual harassment

#MeToo in medicine: Docs who are sexually harassed struggle to report behavior, survey suggests

Both female and male docs are harassed on the job and more than half of the victims do not report the incidents, Medscape survey finds.

The #MeToo movement has sparked a national dialogue on sexual harassment in the workplace, giving a voice to victims in many fields, including health care.

Seven percent of respondents to a recent Medscape (login required) physician survey reported having experienced sexual harassment in the past three years. Medscape polled over 6,200 physicians and clinicians; 12 percent of female respondents said they’d been harassed, and 4 percent of male respondents said they’d experienced sexual harassment on the job.

Of physicians who’d been harassed, more than half said they’d received sexual comments about anatomy or body parts, and nearly half said they were subjected to unwanted groping, touching or other physical contact.

One survey respondent said she had been cornered by a surgeon near a scrub sink, where he moved his arms down her sides before whispering an offer for a date and physical activity. She ultimately ended up leaving that particular job.

Other notable figures from Medscape’s report include:

  • 47 percent of harassers cited by physicians were fellow physicians.
  • Among residents, 54 percent of harassers were physicians.
  • Among male physicians who were harassed, 77 percent of perpetrators were women and 23 percent of perpetrators were male.
  • Among female physicians who were harassed, 97 percent of perpetrators were male and 3 percent of perpetrators were women.
  • 36 percent of victims did not report harassment for fear of retaliation from the perpetrator.
  • 53 percent of those accused of harassment believe the incident was fabricated.
  • 38 percent of those accused believe their actions and intentions were misunderstood.

Despite more voices coming forward to report harassment, 60 percent of physicians who were harassed did not report the behavior. Of those who did report harassment, less than a quarter of those claims resulted in an internal investigation, according to the survey.

Many workplaces and their human resources departments don’t know how to conduct a sexual harassment investigation, Susan Strauss, RN, EdD, a harassment and bullying consultant, told Medscape. Although 55 percent of physicians surveyed said their workplaces conducted sexual harassment training, the training can be ineffective if it just focuses on avoiding liability, Medscape noted. To truly address the issue, training must go beyond brief videos employees are required to watch, Dr. Strauss said.

To make sure survey respondents were working with the same definition of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, Medscape asked about specific behaviors, including:

  • Unwanted sexual text messages/emails
  • Comments about anatomy/body parts
  • Propositions to engage in sexual activity
  • Being asked repeatedly for a date
  • Offer of a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor
  • Threats of punishment for refusal of a sexual favor
  • Deliberately infringing on body space
  • Unwanted groping or other physical contact
  • Deliberate fondling of self
  • Grabbing body parts
  • Rape

More than a quarter of survey respondents who had experienced harassment said unwanted groping and physical contact had the biggest impact on their wellbeing, while 23 percent said sexual comments about anatomy or body parts affected them the most.

For more details, view the full report at Medscape.

For further reading

Identifying patients with a history of sexual assault can improve care

Sexual harassment complaints at DO schools: A brief overview

2 comments

  1. I was raped and had my life threatened by a fellow medical student when I was a first year at LECOM. The administration blamed me and tried to suspend me for “immoral behavior.” After an expensive legal battle I got the suspension dropped but their shaming and punishing of me worsened my PTSD dramatically. The perpetrator is now in prison for life but the administration and faculty who did this to me still run the school and are well respected etc.

  2. This is a horrible scenario and I’m so sorry you had to suffer through this. It was cruel. The medical education environment has very far to go in regards to unchecked abuse of power. It is so hard to report even smaller incidents for fear of career backlash. We can’t report to “human resources” like another hospital employee, we are stuck trying to balance politics with the department heads or possible career ruin. I’m hoping the “old boys club” will slowly be replaced with more women department heads and more implementation of sensitivity/sexual harassment training at all levels.

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