Widespread Harassment Reported at Academic Medical Centers

Linda Pololi
Mike Lovett
Linda Pololi

Academic medical centers are where the next generation of young doctors learn to heal patients. But a recent study suggests that female residents face widespread sexual harassment by colleagues or superiors during their training at these institutions.

The study — published in the American Journal of Medicine and led by physician Linda Pololi, a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center — found that residents in surgery or internal medicine reported the highest rates of unwanted advances, sexual comments or attention; those in pediatrics reported the lowest rates. Women residents and faculty outnumber men in pediatrics, but the opposite is true in internal medicine and, especially, surgery, where only 19% of surgical faculty are women, according to the study.

Roughly 1,700 residents at 14 academic medical centers across the country were surveyed; half were women.

Among the paper’s findings:

• Nearly 12% of women doing a residency in general surgery reported being harassed by colleagues or superiors during their previous two years of training. In internal medicine, it was 7%, and in pediatrics, 2%.

• Residents who identified as LGBTQ reported the highest levels of sexual harassment.

• Women who reported they had been sexually harassed by other doctors said they were less energized by work and had higher levels of ethical or moral distress.

“It is chilling to realize the widespread extent of this unprofessional behavior among physicians in medical training programs,” Pololi and her colleagues wrote in the paper. “In our institutions of healing, learning and discovery, gender bias and harassment must be eliminated.”