A recent Washington Post Health Perspective article by a female medical resident brought to light how pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct is in the medical field. The author described inappropriate groping by patients, and the article uplifted the fact that faculty and staff members are the perpetrators of almost half of the sexual violence experienced by female medical students. The unspoken rule is not to report – that these experiences are just part of the job. We know that when harassment and misconduct come from a superior, there are even fewer options for recourse or safety. The MeToo movement has shown that no industry is immune to the dialogue or mirror being held up to what has been long ignored and silenced – and that includes the medical field.
“It’s ironic, she said, that as a gynecologist she is trained to believe patients’ claims about sexual assault. In the workplace, though, it’s well known that raising such matters can backfire. She added: ‘Physicians should be setting a standard on this.’” – Christina Jewett, “Women in medicine shout #MeToo about sexual harassment at work”
It’s important to note the level of trust everyone – survivors and non-survivors – put in their medical providers. That’s why it’s vital the medical industry stop harm before it happens by addressing problematic behaviors in medical settings for survivors and staff members alike and working towards a culture where this isn’t the norm.
From the courageous female athletes who read their victim impact statements, to Larry Nassar’s conviction, to an unprecedented $500 million settlement at Michigan State University, it’s clear that change is possible. However, the medical field is often a hierarchical space where men dominate in positions of power and authority. We must create safe spaces where female medical students and doctors feel comfortable coming forward with complaints of inappropriate behavior. Reporting, transparency, and accountability are all key to making in-roads. Advocates can also apply pressure on medical boards to address sexual assault by doctors and medical staff.
Every step counts when it comes to ending sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse in one generation. We must work toward a world where female residents do not have to write a column in the newspaper to be heard.