It happens here, too: Sexual harassment occurs in healthcare field

Female nurse looking stressed
Reshma Jagsi, M.D., has studied workplace sexual harassment in the healthcare field but wishes she had answers about how to address the problem. (Getty/gpointstudio)

After she published a study about workplace sexual harassment in the medical field, Reshma Jagsi, M.D., began hearing from perfect strangers, and there was no shortage of stories.

“The details of their experiences are appalling,” writes Jagsi, in an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, about how sexual harassment is a problem healthcare, just as it has been so publicly revealed in recent headlines about sexual misconduct in the business, political, media and entertainment industries.

One woman told Jagsi about a senior male leader in her field who pulled down the front zipper of her dress at a conference social event. Others reported unwanted touching and being tormented during training.

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And like many of the other victims who for years remained silent about their harassers, none of the women who contacted her reported their experiences,  said Jagsi, a professor and deputy chair in the department of radiation oncology at Michigan Medicine and director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine.

“Reporters often ask me whether medicine is any different in this way from other fields. … My intuition is that the problem is at least as bad in medicine as elsewhere, especially if one adds harassment by patients to that by colleagues and superiors,” Jagsi wrote.

While she says she wishes she had answers about how to address the problem, she welcomes the opportunity to participate in the now open conversation about the behavior.

The medical field hasn’t been different from others in generating headlines given the national attention surrounding sexual harassment. In Boston, the mishandling of sexual harassment complaints at a health clinic led to the resignation of its chief executive and chairman of its board of directors. Both were forced to resign after a newspaper investigation reported the Fenway Community Health Center failed to act when it learned about complaints of sexual harassment and bullying made by staff members against a prominent doctor who worked at the center.

And it’s not just a problem for women. In the Boston case, the doctor allegedly harassed at least three male employees at the center and bullied both male and female co-workers.

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