Sexual Harassment in Healthcare: Doctors and Nurses

Interviewer: Leslie Kane, MA; Interviewee: Susan Strauss, RN, EdD


June 27, 2018

In This Article


In response to the findings of Medscape's Sexual Harassment of Physicians Report 2018, Business of Medicine Senior Director Leslie Kane, MA, recently interviewed Susan Strauss, RN, EdD, an internationally recognized author, expert, and speaker on discrimination, harassment, and bullying in the workplace and school. Dr Strauss is also an expert witness for legal cases involving discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

Medscape: In our survey report, 7% of physicians and 11% of nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants said they experienced sexual harassment within the past 3 years. What does this say about what is going on regarding harassment in healthcare?

Strauss: We've indeed heard that sexual harassment is frequent in the healthcare field, and that while it may be lower than in some industries, according to this survey it is alive and well. In many situations, healthcare is a hierarchical and paternalistic field. In healthcare, we are dealing with intimate topics and nudity as part of the care that we give. These situations may be likely to contribute to sexually harassing behavior.

Medscape: Some other surveys we've seen since the #MeToo movement gained attention give much higher percentages of people saying they have been sexually harassed or abused at work. What accounts for that higher percentage?

Strauss: Most likely it relates to the fact that your time frame for reporting was "the most recent 3 years" rather than asking if a person had ever been sexually harassed. The time element is an important factor. Many of the women who are now coming forward and revealing information about their experiences are talking about events that happened 5, 10, 20, or more years ago. When you condense the time frame to the past 3 years, you'll get different percentages.

Medscape: Yes; when we looked at the respondents' write-in comments, a number of them said, "I haven't had this experience recently, but when I was young ...," or "I recall an event from 20 years ago."

Strauss: It's possible that over the past couple of years, because of all of the media attention, some people have become more aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and try to be more observant of their behavior.


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