- A new Medscape survey of 3,700 physicians found that about one in 10 female physicians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace at some point over the past three years, compared to 4% of male respondents.
- Nearly half (47%) of physicians and over half (54%) of residents said they were harassed by another physician.
- More than half (54%) of all respondents said their organizations either "did nothing or trivialized the incident" once it was reported. More than one-third considered quitting their jobs after the incident, and 14% did.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, up to 60% of women experience unwanted sexual attention or coercion, sexually crude conduct or sexist comments in the workplace. The problem may be more prominent in healthcare because women make up 80% of the workforce. Still, a new study from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine shows poor policies have enabled sexual harassment across academic science and medicine as a whole.
While most of Medscape's respondents were between the ages of 35 and 44, sexual harassment can of course start earlier. According to NASEM's study, 40% of women in medical school said they had been sexually harassed by faculty or staff.
Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape’s Business of Medicine site, told Healthcare Dive that some human resources departments may need better training in investigating sexual harassment. Showing a 20-minute video doesn't mean you've covered your bases. Additionally, behavioral examples are set by organizational leaders, she said.
"Attitudes come from the top. In any organization, if rudeness is tolerated, if misbehaving and having temper tantrums is tolerated ... it becomes easy to slip over into other types of misbehaving actions," Kane said. "It sounds like a clichè, but set a good example that only the finest behavior is accepted and expected. People will get that message."
This Medscape survey is the first in a series that will dig deeper into sexual harassment in healthcare across professions, including nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. More than 6,200 health care professionals responded to Medscape's survey overall, though this particular one homed in on physicians.
According to this first poll, the vast majority of sexual harassment has been committed by males. Almost all (97%) of female physicians who said that they had been harassed said the perpetrator was male. Of the small group of male physicians who were harassed, 23% said they were harassed by another man, and 77% said they were harassed by a woman.
Comments about physical appearance, sexual remarks, unwanted physical contact and infringement of personal space were the most common types of harassment reported. More than 20% were harassed with "explicit or implicit propositions to engage in sexual activity or received unwanted sexual texts or emails."
Assault, rape, and propositions of career advancement in exchange for sexual activity were reported at lower rates, according to Medscape.