Sexual harassment among female surgeons

A recent survey in America has revealed worrying levels of sexual harassment of female surgeons. A total of 1,005 individuals completed the survey. Of these 744 (74%) were women. Of the respondents, 51% worked at an academic institution, 13% at community medical centres, 15% in private practice, and 19% in other settings.

Over half (58%) of the female respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the previous year. These results follow in the wake of the recent #MeToo movement, which has exposed sexual harassment across many different professions, especially the entertainment industry.

Personal harassment, of course, can have many different forms, ranging from the subtle to the really blatant. Survey responses indicated that the most common variety (in 53% of cases) was ‘verbal or physical conduct’ (ie body language). But ‘unwanted sexual advances or physical contact’ had occurred in 23% of the cases, and ‘comments about sexual orientation’ had occurred in 10%. However, dealing with subtle harassment can, in some ways, be even more challenging to deal with than its more blatant manifestations as the latter is perhaps easier to identify and challenge. Of note, women weren’t the only victims of this kind of behaviour, as 25% of the men responding also reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment themselves.

Is this exclusively a North American phenomenon? Or does this survey also reflect the experiences of trainees, not only surgical ones, here in the UK? Please do let us know your own thoughts and personal experiences by adding a comment to this blog.

Comments (3) Add yours ↓
  1. Catherine Lovegrove Academic Foundation Doctor

    Sexual harassment (defined by the Oxford dictionary as “aggressive pressure or intimidation”) has no place in any setting, inclusive of medical or surgical training. Harassment and aggression, like bullying, can go unnoticed by onlookers or even perpetrators and communication is essential in its eradication. Promotion of human factors including team-work and situational awareness can help by reducing any hierarchy that can lead to those in positions of authority exploiting this.
    Additional to the above comes a responsibility for all to raise the profile of the unacceptability of the issue. Creating working environments where there is freedom to speak up, strong leadership and effective teams is a collaborative effort and we are all involved in this.

    February 22, 2019 Reply
  2. Roger Kirby Prof of Urology

    Well said Catherine!

    February 22, 2019 Reply
  3. Roger Kirby

    Hundreds of doctors have been accused of bullying and sexually harassing colleagues in the past five years, prompting concern that a culture of intimidation is thriving in the NHS.

    Data shows that reports of bullying and harassment in England rose from 420 in 2013-14 to 585 in 2017-18. The figures, obtained by the Guardian using a freedom of information request, showed that only a fraction of these cases led to dismissal. Speaking anonymously, one surgeon from London said he had experienced racism in his job. He said bullying was endemic in some hospitals.

    A fifth of NHS doctors were either bullied or abused last year, this study finds.

    The rise down could be the result of a number of factors. “Underpinning the environment in which bullying can fester are chronic staff shortages and systemic pressures, which factor into the pressurised workplaces our members tell us about,” said Kim Sunley, national officer for the Royal College of Nursing.

    February 26, 2019 Reply

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