Early in March, allegations of sexual misconduct by a resident physician became public. A social worker alleged that a resident physician sent her inappropriate, sexually charged texts and photos and that he pressed into her without her consent. Since then, several other women have also come forward with similar allegations.
I am not surprised that this happened.
Thirty to seventy percent of female physicians and as many as half of female medical students report being sexually harassed. A systematic review reveals similar numbers for sexual harassment of nurses. This does not mean that these are the numbers that were sexually harassed. This means that thirty to seventy percent of female physicians and half of female medical students reported the sexual harassment they experienced, with an unknown number remaining unreported.
Anecdotally, I am pretty sure every single woman in Medicine has experienced inappropriate comments or advances.
By male attendings.
By male residents.
By male patients.
Female healthcare workers are especially vulnerable to the mercy of the power hierarchy in Medicine. Medicine, a practice of serving and healing others, cultivates a culture of deference to seniors among staff. For medical students and residents, the (predominantly male) attending physicians determine whether we will pass clinical rotations or if letters of recommendation will be written for career advancement. Patient satisfaction scores factor into how widely we (fake) smile when patients make inappropriate comments about our appearances.
The resident physician being charged with sexual harassment reported to his program director that he was under investigation because he “had fallen into a woman.” No action was taken against the resident physician by his residency program. For unclear reasons, the resident physician transferred into another residency program in a different state.
I am not surprised this was kept hush-hush.
I am not surprised he was allowed to continue in residency.
After all, Medicine is the good ol’ boy’s club, right?
A study of physician sexual misconduct in the National Practitioner Data Bank over ten years concluded that medical boards had not disciplined a full two-thirds of those doctors with solid evidence of sexual misconduct against them.
Medicine is not unprecedented in its culture of sexual harassment. Interestingly enough, foodservice and retail, other customer service fields, fare worse than Medicine. There are countless examples of sexual harassment in entertainment and politics.
This rampant sexual misconduct reflects a more significant societal problem: that society has groomed men into thinking that this behavior is acceptable.
We witnessed the acquittal of a President who “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” We have lived through the confirmation of two judges to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault. We heard audio of a man proclaiming, “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” — a man who went on to become President of the United States.
These men served in the highest offices in the country. What message trickles down to the general population?
Nearly half of the labor workforce is comprised of women. Women are currently earning more bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees than men. Women are becoming empowered. The #MeToo movement went viral in 2017.
It is time for society to realize that women are thinking beings with our own minds.
No means NO.
Boys and men must be educated that the baseline state of normalcy is not to make inappropriate comments or send inappropriate messages or try to touch inappropriately. Instead, the state of normalcy is to abstain from such behaviors.
Workplaces need to adopt strict zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment. And if it occurs, a blind eye cannot be turned. Male-dominated leadership in Medicine has only demonstrated the dire need of having women in leadership.
While thirty percent of practicing physicians are female, over half of current medical students are female. This behavior can no longer be tolerated nor is this the culture I want for a future generation of physicians who will ultimately end up caring for us in our elder years.
Enough is enough. It is time to do better.
Uzma Khan, MD, is a practicing Internist and a Women in White Coats writer’s fellow. She blogs about medicine, money and life at http://www.meandmystethoscope.com/, and she can be found on Facebook Uzma Khan, MD, Instagram @uzmakhanmd and Twitter @uzmakhanmd