10% of Clinicians Have Been Sexually Harassed in Last 3 Years: Survey

Marcia Frellick

June 15, 2018

Twelve percent of female physicians and 4% of their male counterparts said they have personally experienced sexual abuse, harassment, or misconduct in the past 3 years, according to Medscape's Sexual Harassment of Physicians: Report 2018.

The report presents results of a survey of more than 6200 clinicians in the United States who were asked about specific harassing behavior they have experienced or witnessed in the past 3 years, where it occurred, how they responded, and how it affected them. The survey also asked whether they had been accused of sexual harassment.

Overall, 10% all clinicians who responded said they were sexually harassed within the past 3 years. Among physicians, 7% said they experienced some form of sexual harassment within that timeframe. (This compares with 11% for nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, which will be detailed in an upcoming Medscape survey report.)

Almost Half of Perpetrators Are Other Physicians

Among physicians reporting harassment, 47% said the perpetrators were other physicians; 16% said they were harassed by nurses.

Among the physicians who said the perpetrator was another physician, 25% of the respondentswere men and 60% were women. Residents also said physicians were most commonly the perpetrators (54% of the harassers); 14% of the harassers were fellow residents or fellows.

Though more female than male physicians said they personally experienced abuse, harassment, or misconduct, there was little gender disparity among physicians who said they had witnessed the behaviors in recent years (14% for male physicians vs 13% for female). While 3% of male physicians said they had been accused of such behaviors, none of the women reported the same.

Most complaints of sexual harassment sent to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Employment Practices agencies have been made by women, according to an analysis of complaints.

The report says, "In Federal Fiscal Year 2016, nearly 30,000 harassment charges were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); nearly one-quarter of those charges alleged sexual harassment, and 83.4 percent of sexual harassment charges were brought by women."

Much misconduct, however, often goes unreported by all victims. Among physicians who said they were harassed in the Medscape survey, only 40% had reported the behavior.

When the abuses were reported, they were investigated by workplaces less than one quarter (23%) of the time.

Definition of Misconduct

Included in the survey's definition of sexual harassment, abuse, or misconduct were unwanted sexual texts/emails, comments about body parts, propositions to engage in sexual activity, being asked repeatedly for a date, offer for a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor, threats of punishment for refusal of a sexual favor, deliberately infringing on body space, unwanted groping/hugging/physical contact, deliberate self-fondling, grabbing body parts, and rape.

Among medical residents who responded, 9% said they had experienced sexual harassment; women residents were about three times more likely to say they had experienced the harassment. Among the anecdotes accompanying the survey was this example: "I didn't have a seat to sit at in clinic and the attending said, 'You can sit on my lap.'"

An anesthesiologist who commented on the report said, "I have been sexually harassed by nurses on two separate occasions. Once as a resident when a nurse swatted me in my backside as I was giving her a report, the other time was when I was a fellow by a nurse manager who made comments about my belt as I stood in front of her desk, when she smelled my neck as I was at the computer charting and then made a comment about my 'size' in the charting room in front of all the attendings, as well as the nursing staff and medical students."

Crowding Body Space, Leering Most Common

The most common forms of harassment were infringing on body space (experienced by 55% of those harassed) and comments about or leering at body parts (52%).

A resident in the survey said, "The attending physicians were discussing my enlarging breasts while pregnant, saying they just can't help but notice them."

About one third (32%) of those who were harassed were victimized by one person; 47% reported two to three perpetrators. Among residents who were harassed, 12% reported that they had more than seven perpetrators engaging in harassment or abuse.

The survey results included 6235 responders across 29 specialties. The margin of error was ±1.24% at a 95% confidence interval using a point estimate of 50%.

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