Appendix 17 - Sexual Harassment

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

Within Normal Limits

In medical student surveys, as many as two thirds of the women report sexual harassment from the faculty.[243] One third of the female medical students report specifically that they were the objects of unwanted sexual advances from attending physicians. From another study 12 percent (38 of 301) experienced physical sexual advances. Again, perpetrators were most often surgeons.[244]

The situation for residents may be even worse. Almost all of the 1200 interns surveyed for one study reported that they personally had experienced, "at least one incident of mistreatment or sexual harassment, most commonly from verbal attacks, and mainly from those in positions of authority." Not all of the attacks were verbal. Five percent of female residents reported physical assaults by male supervising physicians.[245]

In a survey of 500 psychiatry residents, 25 indicated they had actually been sexually involved with their psychiatric educators. In retrospect most residents found the sexual contacts inappropriate, harmful and/or exploitive.[246]

A Favor to Ask

A1988 AMA survey elicited examples of sexual harassment such as, "propo-sitions of good grades for sexual favors" from residents.[247] Three years later the number of female medical students reporting rewards for sexual favors was quantified at almost 8%.

Other examples:

[One] resident reported that while she was a medical student, the senior resident on the surgical rotation had instructed her to stand next to him in the operating room and had repeatedly rubbed his groin against her during the surgical procedure.[248]

One female resident reported that in her third year of medical school, her attending physician arranged to meet her alone in his office to discuss her evaluation. He stopped suddenly in the midst of the discussion and asked, 'Have you ever seen the movie Deep Throat?' When she shook her head he leaned across the desk toward her, opened his mouth wide, and ran his tongue slowly all the way around his lips.[249]

From the New England Journal: "The level of hostility that is often involved [with sexual harassment] and the destructiveness of this hostility to the victim's well-being and career are often not appreciated."[250] As one doctor describes, "In this [good-old-boy network] environment sexist attitudes and other prejudice function much like an extremely virulent infectious disease to which young physicians may have little or no immunity."[251] According to the executive director of the Federation of Organizations for Professional Women, the problem of sexual harassment in medicine is, "getting worse, not better."[252]


[243] Luitz, RM and DD Nguyen. "Medical Student Abuse During Third-Year Clerkships." Journal of the American Medical Association 275(1996):414-416.

[244] Margittai KJ, R Moscarello and M F Rossi. "Forensic Aspects of Medical Student Abuse: A Canadian Perspective." Bulletin American Academy Psychiatry and the Law 24(1996)377-385.

[245] Myers, MF. "Abuse of Residents." Canadian Medical Association Journal 154(1996):1705-1708.

[246] Gartrell, N, et al. "Psychiatric Residents' Sexual Contact with Educators and Patients: Results from a National Survey." American Journal of Psychiatry 145(1988):690-694.

[247] Baldwin, DC, SR Daugherty and EJ Eckenfels. "Student Perceptions of Mistreatment and Harassment During Medical School." Western Journal of Medicine 155(1991):140-145.

[248] Komaromy, M, et al. "Sexual Harassment in Medical Education." New England Journal of Medicine 4 February 1993:322-326.

[249] Abuse of Hospital Staff, Medical Staff, Volunteers or Students. Caritas Health Group Policy #II-1.

[250] Jensvold, MF, B Mackey and V Young-Horvath. Letter. New England Journal of Medicine 329(1993):661-662.

[251] Gamble, JG. "The Relevance of John Dewey's Philosophy to Graduate Medical Education." The Pharos 1994(Spring):16-19.

[252] Cotton, P. "Harassment Hinders Women's Care and Careers." Journal of the American Medical Association 267:778-784.

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