Sexual harassment is cause for concern in every profession, and the medical field is no exception. A recent Medscape report, Sexual Harassment of Physicians: Report 2018, reveals that 7% of physicians (12% women and 4% men) and 9% of medical residents (16% women and 4% men) say they have experienced some form of sexual abuse, harassment, or misconduct within the past three years. Additionally, 14% of physicians and 17% of residents say they have witnessed such an event.
The Medscape report is based on responses from 6,200 U.S. physicians and clinicians who were asked about specific harassing behavior they had experienced or witnessed, where it occurred, how they responded, and how it affected them. The parameters of what constitutes sexual harassment or abuse were clearly defined.
Image credit: medscape.com
The most frequently cited harassing behaviors include infringing on personal space, leering, groping, and unwanted hugging. Physicians who experienced harassment were often targeted multiple times. Text, emails, sexual comments, and leering were the behaviors most often repeated.
Confronting the perpetrator
Sexual harassment of female physicians is more common and more often reported than sexual harassment of men. Of the male physicians who were harassed, nearly one-quarter (23%) reported being harassed by another man and 77% were harassed by a woman. According to the report, fewer men report harassment or abuse because they are embarrassed to do so.
In fact, more than half (55%) of all respondents who said they were harassed didn’t confront the perpetrator at the time of the incident. Others did speak up, either telling the perpetrator to stop (39%) or telling the perpetrator how they felt (20%), with varying degrees of success.
Image credit: medscape.com
Only 40% of physicians who were harassed reported the offensive behavior. A male physician shared: “I have been grabbed repeatedly by a male nurse; even once my rear was forcibly grabbed and groped while treating a patient under anesthesia. When I made a complaint, nothing happened to him. They forced us to keep working together. It has been a demoralizing experience.”
Nearly half (49%) of those who didn’t report the incident feared they’d be accused of overreacting. And 45% believed that no action would be taken. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, sexual harassment often results in a stressful work environment. More than one-third (34%) of physicians who were harassed report that the experience interfered with their ability to do their job.
How to protect yourself
“This report underscores the need to take on the issue of harassment within the medical community and ensure that those who are victimized will be heard,” said Hansa Bhargava, MD, Medscape Medical Editor.
The #MeToo movement has exposed how pervasive sexual harassment of women continues to be in the workplace. However, this study and others demonstrate that sexual harassment of men is a workplace problem as well. According to a Washington Post report, men account for nearly 1 in 5 (about 17%) complaints of workplace sexual harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and that number has remained relatively consistent over the past decade.
Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to avoid an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace, but four best practices will help you respond appropriately.
- Be informed about the definition of sexual harassment.
- Be knowledgeable about your institutional policies regarding sexual harassment.
- Report harassment immediately to your supervisor, or to a higher authority if your supervisor if the harasser. Don’t be afraid to report a comment, action, or gesture that made you feel uncomfortable.
- If possible, speak directly with the individual and let them know their behavior was inappropriate.
If you experience sexual harassment while on a locum tenens assignment for Weatherby Healthcare, notify your consultant immediately at 954.343.3050 or call Weatherby Risk Management at the number provided in your welcome letter.