Health care

A nurse uses a stethoscope to check a patient's breathing. 

About 10 percent of U.S. clinicians — physicians, medical residents, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants — reported they were sexually harassed within the past three years, a new report found.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has been highlighted by the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, and a national report showed it has not escaped the medical field.

The 2018 Sexual Harassment of Physicians report, compiled by Medscape, a medical information website for clinicians, found those who experienced sexual harassment said they were abused by other doctors, nurses, administrators and patients.

Some said they were impacted psychologically and emotionally.

“Many who have experienced harassment and abuse will demonstrate such behaviors as post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and lessened ability to make decisions,” Susan Strauss, registered nurse and harassment and bullying consultant in Burnsville, Minnesota, said in the report. “Many victims question their self-worth and ask, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’”

Medscape authors collected online survey responses about workplace harassment experiences from 6,235 clinicians across the country in more than 29 specialties between March 2 and April 23.

While 80 percent of physicians reported they had not experienced, witnessed or been accused of sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct, about 7 percent reported they had experienced sexual harassment.

In nearly half the cases, it was by another physician, according to the report. Physicians said they were also harassed by administrators, nonmedical employees and patients.

Harassment was more frequent among nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and medical residents, the report showed.

“The surgeon made comments regarding my body and how I would be a good plastic surgeon because of my own body, knowing what desirable body parts looked like. I said nothing,” a medical resident reported in the survey.

The most common type of harassment included “infringing on body space,” sexual comments about body parts, leering at body parts, and unwanted groping, hugging or other physical contact.

Physicians reported many of these incidents took place in restricted administrative areas, hallways, patient care units, operating rooms and offices.

“A surgeon continually flirted with me despite me making it clear it was unwanted,” said one physician in the survey. “I was cornered at a scrub sink and hugged, then his arms moved down my sides while he pushed his forehead against mine and whispered an offer for a date/physical activity. I declined and moved him away from me. I have since left that job.”

Only 40 percent of physicians who were harassed reported incidents, and less than one quarter of the cases resulted in an investigation, the Medscape survey found.

More than half of those who complained said that either their report of the incident was trivialized or they felt like it resulted in some form of retaliation. In other cases, no action was taken, clinicians said.

“I have been grabbed repeatedly by a male nurse; even once my rear was forcibly grabbed and groped while treating a patient under anesthesia,” reported one male physician. “When I made a complaint, nothing happened to him. They forced us to keep working together. It has been a demoralizing experience.”

A female physician said in the survey her company has a harassment policy, but “it’s a joke that anything will be done about it.” She said when someone like a boss who brings in millions of dollars to the company is accused, “no one cares” and that those who report are just looked down upon.

Others in the profession also reported that focus on sexual harassment in health care has led to a number of false accusations.

Of the 2 percent of survey respondents who said they had been accused of harassment, some said they were in the wrong, others said their actions were misunderstood, another group said the claims were false and many said they were cleared after an investigation.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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