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Close to half of physicians have been sexually harassed on the job, report shows

About 47 percent of physicians who indicated they had been harassed said they were harassed by another physician.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

More than 1 in 10 female physicians and 16 percent of female residents have experienced sexual harassment within the past three years, according to a new report from Medscape. 

Overall, 7 percent of physicians (12 percent of women and 4 percent of men), and 9 percent of medical residents (16 percent of women, 4 men) reported harassment.

More than 3,700 physicians and medical residents responded to the 2018 Medscape Report: Sexual Harassment of Physicians. It found that about 47 percent of physicians who indicated they had been harassed said they were harassed by another physician (54 percent for residents), with other harassers identified as administrators, non-medical personnel or patients (29 percent), nurses or nurse practitioners (17 percent), medical residents and fellows (4 percent) or medical students (1 percent).

A full 97 percent of the female physicians who said they'd been harassed said the perpetrator was male. Of male physicians who were harassed, 23 percent were harassed by another man, and 77 percent were harassed by a woman. Most physicians reporting harassment were between the ages of 35 and 44.

The most common types of harassment included sexual comments about body parts or anatomy, unwanted groping, hugging, patting or other physical contact, sexual remarks and leering, and deliberately infringing on personal space, such as standing too close. One in 5 physicians reported being asked repeatedly for a date, and more than 20 percent were harassed with explicit or implicit propositions to engage in sexual activity or received unwanted sexual texts or emails.

The findings come amid reports of sexual misconduct in numerous professions and at a time when the percentage of female physicians and medical students is increasing.

About half of physicians and residents said they did not confront the issue when the incident happened, saying nothing to their harasser.  Forty percent of physicians said they reported the offensive behavior. Of those 40 percent who did, 54 percent said that their organizations either did nothing or trivialized the incident, and more than half said that reporting the incident had a negative impact on their job or was not taken seriously. Only one-quarter of all incidents that were reported resulted in an investigation. Action was taken in about 38 percent of those cases, including the harasser being reprimanded, fired, moved or made to apologize.

Training and enforcement of sexual harassment policies may be partly to blame for some of the results. Last year, an MGMA stat poll found that while more than 80 percent of healthcare organizations had a sexual harassment policy, just having a policy isn't enough to curb the most egregious behavior.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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