New Truths Revealed about Sexual Harassment in Healthcare


A newly released study reveals some shocking statistics about patients sexually harassing physicians. Medscape published a study in July exposing some hard truths about what it’s like working as a physician and the unprofessional side to the patient-doctor relationship. Sexual harassment in healthcare is happening more often than we think. It happens among co-workers, but more so between patients and doctors. As a locum tenens physician who travels from state to state, perhaps you’ve seen and heard it all. Or maybe this is a side to healthcare you’ve yet to see. Either way, check out these recent discoveries on sexual harassment. Also, learn what you can do if it happens to you.

Sexual Harassment in Healthcare: Recent Discoveries

Everyone has a different perception of what constitutes as sexual harassment. This is why researchers conducting the study first established with clinicians their definition. They created a list of examples of what constitutes as sexual harassment.

Examples of sexual harassment

  • Unwanted text messages or emails of a sexual nature
  • Unwanted comments about body parts
  • Suggestions to engage in sexual activity
  • Repeatedly being asked out on a date
  • Bribery, such as being offered a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor
  • Threats of punishment if suggested sexual favor is refused
  • Interfering with personal space
  • Unwanted physical contact, including groping or hugging
  • Touching oneself inappropriately in front of someone else
  • Rape

The statistics in the study are based on instances that occurred within the past three years. There were more than 3,700 respondents to the survey. Respondents consisted of doctors, nurses, practitioners and physician assistants. Here are five interesting facts about patients sexually harassing physicians.

Five Facts about Sexual Harassment in Healthcare

sexual harassment in healthcare

  1. Only seven percent of physicians reported harassment from co-workers whereas 27 percent reported harassment from patients.
  2. The most common form of harassment experienced by physicians is patients acting in an overly sexual manner towards them, followed by asking them on dates and trying to grope or rub against them.
  3. More women than men experience sexual harassment in healthcare.
  4. Certain specialties experience sexual harassment more than others, such as dermatology, emergency medicine, plastic surgery, and diabetes.
  5. In situations where patients were behaving inappropriately, most physicians told the patient to stop. They also made sure they were no longer alone with the patient. A very small percentage of doctors admitted to accepting the patient’s behavior or advances.

Here are some anonymous quotes from physicians about their experience with harassment:

A female physician said: “A patient made a comment that he was going to grab my breasts if I caused pain to him while removing his nasal packing.”

A male physician said: “The patient took off her shirt without being instructed to do so. I told her that was inappropriate and then had a female staff member come in to the room with the patient.”

Sexual Harassment in Healthcare – What Can Physicians do About it?

Locum tenens physicians – if you experience sexual harassment from your patients, you don’t have to accept that behavior. Here are six different ways that you could handle unwanted advances from patients.

  1. Tell the patient that their behavior is unprofessional and ask them to stop.
  2. Warn the patient that if their unprofessional behavior doesn’t stop, they will have to see a different provider.
  3. Report the incident to your supervisor and see if another provider within the practice could handle the patient better.
  4. No longer see the patient alone, so that they are less likely to act inappropriately towards you.
  5. Have the patient dismissed from your practice
  6. If things get too threatening or serious, get law enforcement involved.

Do you have any additional tips about handling sexual harassment in healthcare? Share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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