Most New Doctors Have Faced Sexual Harassment, Study Shows

By   |  March 27, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, March 25, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- The #MeToo movement has done little to blunt sexual harassment among health care professionals, a pair of new studies report.

More than half of all new doctors are subjected to sexual harassment during their first year on the job, researchers say.

That includes nearly three-quarters of female doctors and a third of male doctors just starting their careers, according to findings published March 22 in JAMA Health Forum.

Believe it or not, that actually represents an improvement, researchers said. These sexual harassment numbers are down slightly from five or six years ago.

“The overall decrease in sexual harassment incidence over recent years suggests a move in the right direction, however rates of sexual harassment experienced by physician trainees are still alarmingly high,” lead author Elena Frank, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Neuroscience Institute, said in a news release.

For the study, researchers analyzed survey data from nearly 4,000 doctors who finished their intern year in 2017, 2018 or 2023.

The survey included a direct question about whether the doctors had experienced sexual harassment.

It also had questions regarding experiences that qualify as harassment, which allowed the researchers to assess whether the doctors knew what constitutes sexual harassment.

In all, 55% of the 2023 medical interns experienced at least one form of sexual harassment, but only about 18% recognized that they had been harassed, researchers said.

That is an improvement from 2017, when fewer than 9% of those who’d been harassed recognized their treatment as such, results show.

The forms of sexual harassment included gender-biased comments or jokes, persistent unwanted romantic overtures, or pressure to engage in sexual activity for job-related reasons.

Disturbingly, sexual coercion increased across the six years in the study, although it was much rarer than other forms of harassment.

More than 5% of female first-year doctors said in 2023 they’d been pressured to engage in sex to get favorable professional treatment, more than double the percentage in 2017.

A second study from the same team, recently published in JAMA Network Open, explored the differences between specialites in facilities.

That paper reported that interns training in surgery and emergency medicine were 20% more likely than those in pediatrics or neurology to have experienced sexual harassment in 2017.

Sexual harassment also varied between hospitals, with some hospitals 20% more likely than others to have new doctors subjected to harassment.

Surgical training programs, in particular, need to address sexual harassment, researchers concluded.

“Until administrators, faculty, and trainees truly understand that sexual harassment is not and should not be an expected or accepted part of the training experience, an equitable and safe learning environment for physicians cannot be achieved,” Frank said.

More information

The Office on Women’s Health has more about sexual harassment.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, March 22, 2024