Discrimination and Harassment in the Medical Field 17:20, June 12, 2016

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Discrimination and Harassment in the Medical Field

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Sexual harassment and workplace discrimination can happen in any field. Recently, many surveys and studies are being conducted about one industry in particular: healthcare. By comparing statistics, looking at the backdrop, and uncovering a possible solution, organizations and institutions can understand further how to protect its employees from sexual harassment.

In 1993, a survey indicated that 73% of female internal medicine residents reported being sexually harassed. A 2000 study revealed that approximately 50% of female faculty experienced some form of sexual harassment. A 2016 study found that one-third of female physician-scientists reported having experienced sexual harassment during their career. In over 20 years, the instances of sexual misconduct in the medical field appears to have decreased. But to some, the decrease isn’t enough.

“The perception among many of us is that this type of behavior is a thing of the past. So it’s sobering to see quite how many relatively young women in this sample reported experiences with harassment and discrimination,” said Dr. Reshma Jagsi, an associate professor and the deputy chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School, and the 2016 study’s author. Nearly six years prior to Jagsi’s study, Jessica Freedman, MD published an article that revealed similar findings to Jagsi’s.

The 2016 study—which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association—involved researching 1,066 high-achieving men and women in the health field—each physician had received a career development award between 2006 and 2009 from the National Institute of Health and the average age was 43.

These successful physicians, some not even midway through their career, had already been impacted by gender bias, gender advantage, and sexual harassment.

In addition to sexual harassment, the 2016 study found that 70% of women had perceived gender bias in the academic environment, while 66% had experienced it personally. 22% of men reported that they had perceived gender bias, and 10% had personally experienced it.

The Backdrop

Because there haven’t been many studies about sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the medical field, it’s difficult to know about the overall prevalence of this issue and if it is being properly addressed by training institutions and hospital supervisors.

Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination and sexual harassment provide some context. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law that applies to employers across the nation, sexual harassment is a specific type of discrimination against someone’s sex (gender-based discrimination, e.g. “sex stereotyping“). Sexual harassment does not require sexual interest—rather, it is offensive, unwelcome, and sexual misconduct ranging from verbal slurs and physical misbehavior to abusive pictures and nonverbal cues. In other words, there are many ways to effectuate sexual harassment.

With women making up over half of healthcare staff in the United States, the high percentage of sexual harassment in the workplace is a huge cause for concern. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published an updated list of labor force statistics in February 2016. According to their findings, women make up 78.5% of the 20,077 employees who work in healthcare. More specifically, of 6,698 hospital employees, women make up 78.5%.

Though the 1993 survey and the 2000 and 2016 studies don’t measure results from the same number or kind of participants, what they do have in common is that the female medical students or faculty experienced more instances of sexual harassment than the male participants—and the statistics from 2016 are still concerning. What can we do to change this?

A Possible Step in the Right Direction

The presence and use of compliance training courses may help. By providing employees with context, training can impact and lessen the occurrence of discrimination and sexual harassment and discrimination not just in the medical field, but in workplaces all over the country.

“We need to recognize the degree to which sexual harassment and gender inequality continue to be an issue in academic medicine,” Jagsi says. “Women who experience these types of harassment may be less likely to report these incidents if they feel they are unique and aberrational. Our data shows this is not an unusual situation and reflects a larger societal problem.”

Our sexual harassment course, Intersections: Supervisor Anti-Harassment, invites supervisors to take a leadership role in eliminating harassment and discrimination in workplaces in the healthcare field. With a number of interactive exercises, healthcare-specific narratives, and practical tips, options, and advice, this course acts as a user-directed guide for supervisors to promote a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. To learn more, visit us here: LawRoom.com.

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Nicoleta Leontiades
Nicoleta Leontiades is an Instructional Writer at EverFi—assisting in drafting, editing, and customizing content for the company's courseware. With a BA in English Literature and predominantly a creative writer at heart, she enjoys working on the company blog and expanding her voice by researching and writing about a variety of issues that impact the well-being and rights of students and employees.

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