What We Can Do Together to Fight Sexual Harassment in Medicine

Gregory A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

June 13, 2018

In This Article

The Problem Is Pervasive

I'm a practicing physician with an office staff, a community of medical colleagues—including my wife, who's a practicing pediatrician—two daughters who are actively pursuing their dreams of becoming physicians, and a young son. I'm all too aware that any one of us could be subject to unwelcome sexual advances or even be in the position of being accused of having had committed them.

In 20-plus years of active patient care, I've seen (and heard of) plenty of instances in which unwanted sexual actions have been alleged and/or perpetrated. I've researched and lectured on sexual harassment and sexual harassment prevention strategies to local physician groups.

Nevertheless, I take no comfort in the statistic that about 80% of the physicians who responded to Medscape's survey of sexual harassment in the workplace said they haven't been subject to any sexual abuse, harassment, or misconduct within the past 3 years.[1] While that's a good sign, the 7% who answered this question in the affirmative (and 14% who witnessed sexual harassment) is far too high a figure. Troubling, too, but not surprising, is the fact that among physician respondents, almost half said the harasser was another physician.

Issues of sexual harassment are simultaneously extremely complex and yet profoundly straightforward. What may seem like flirting to one person may constitute sexual harassment to another. The actual difference is truly rather clear and found in the word "harassment." As Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, plainly states: "If you're hoping to end up in bed with someone, of whatever gender, it's really in your interests to steer clear of harassing them, as it's likely to be fairly unhelpful."[2] Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people—including healthcare professionals—don't seem to have a problem keeping the distinctions on this standard, or any such behavior, clear.

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