10% of Doctors Sexually Harassed in Last 3 Years

By Marcia Frellick
WebMD Health News

June 21, 2018 -- Twelve percent of female doctors and 4% of male doctors said they have experienced sexual abuse, harassment, or misconduct in the past 3 years, according to Medscape's Sexual Harassment of Physicians: Report 2018.

The results are from a survey of more than 6,200 clinicians in the U.S. who were asked about specific behavior they 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 surveyed said they were sexually harassed within the past 3 years. Among doctors, 7% said they were sexually harassed 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 Doctors

Among doctors who had been harassed, 47% said another doctor harassed them; 16% said they were harassed by nurses.

Among those who had been harassed by another doctor, 25% were men and 60% were women. Medical trainees known as residents also said doctors were most commonly the wrongdoer (54% of the harassers).

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

Most complaints of sexual harassment sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other state and local 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, goes unreported. Among doctors who said they were harassed in the Medscape survey, only 40% 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, being asked to have sex, being asked repeatedly for a date, offers for a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor, threats of punishment for refusal of a sexual favor, infringing on body space, unwanted groping/hugging/physical contact, grabbing body parts, and rape.

Among medical residents who responded, 9% said they had been sexually harassed; 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 [doctor] 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 6,235 responders across 29 specialties. The margin of error was +/-1.24% at a 95% confidence interval using a point estimate of 50%.

SOURCE:

Medscape: "10% of Clinicians Have Been Sexually Harassed in Last 3 Years: Survey - Medscape - Jun 15, 2018."

Medscape: "10% of Clinicians Have Been Sexually Harassed in Last 3 Years: Survey - Medscape - Jun 15, 2018."

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