Meanwhile, 16% of female residents say they’ve experienced sexual harassment within the past three years, a recent report says
Sexual harassment plagues the health care field, too.
More than 1 in 10 female physicians — three times more women than men — and 16% of female residents say they’ve been sexually harassed at work, according to a new report from Medscape.
The survey, which collected data from over 6,200 practicing physicians and clinicians in the U.S. between March 2 and April 23, asked respondents about specific harassing behavior that they had experienced or witnessed over the past three years, as well as where it occurred and how they responded. The forms of reported sexual harassment included infringement on personal space, sexual comments, unwanted sexual comments about body parts, unwanted physical contact and threats of punishment for refusal of a sexual favor.
Overall, 7% of physicians (12% of women and 4% of men) and 9% of medical residents (16% of women and 4% of men) say they’ve been sexually harassed. And of those who alleged harassment, 47% of physicians and 54% of medical residents reported being sexually harassed by other physicians at their workplaces. Sixty-one percent of female physicians who were harassed reported infringement on body space, and 59% reported sexual comments or inappropriate staring.
Harassment and abusive behavior can have significant impacts on physicians’ performance as well, Leslie Kane, senior director of Medscape’s Business of Medicine, told Moneyish. “Oftentimes if there is a physician that victims have to regularly work with, they avoid it,” she said. “Some have even quit their jobs.” Of those who reported being harassed, according to the study, 14% quit their jobs as a result.
This report comes amid the ongoing #MeToo movement, which has raised awareness of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and beyond. “People are starting to realize that behavior that used to be tolerated in the old days just isn’t anymore,” said Kane. “Things that used to be written off are now not OK. Although it’s happening slowly and it’s taking time for that message to get across to people, the more it’s talked about, the more people will be forced to look at their actions.”
Despite the current dialogue, many of those surveyed still did not feel comfortable reporting incidents of harassment. Medical residents were also more likely (78%) than working physicians (55%) to keep silent and not confront the perpetrator. In addition, only 40% of those affected said that they reported the incident — and among those who did, 54% reported that their organizations either did nothing or trivialized the incident.
“I think it has a lot to do with power dynamics,” Kane said. “In addition to this, sometimes residents tend to be younger and often in their first positions. It’s harder for them to speak up because they are trying to do well and they are nervous about how it will influence the rest of their careers. There’s pressure on them to make things work.”
So what can health care workers do after an incident of harassment or an uncomfortable situation? Kane suggests talking to a colleague first. “Even if you can’t go to the top, start by talking to other people in the organization to see if you can get support,” she said.
Hospitals also need to step up their workplace harassment training, Kane said. “A lot of human resource departments don’t have good sexual harassment training and have trouble investigating cases when they come up,” she added. “In some places they’ll show a 20-minute video, and that’s not really enough to help you know the impacts of workplace harassment. … The more training programs there are, the more companies will enhance their investigation policies.”
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