Sexual harassment on student rotations is probably something that happens more often than we think. I honestly believe it gets under-reported due to fears of a bad evaluation or getting kicked out of medical school altogether. Residents or attending physicians that make inappropriate advances or comments toward students are a vital part of a medical school’s academic program and seeing a big stink over a sexual harassment case is the last thing that the administration wants. That being said, programs and departments will go to great lengths to attempt and cover up or candy coat any sexual harassment complaints that a student may have.
As I was browsing SDN today, I came across a thread about sexual harassment during student rotations. Reading through the replies, you’ll see that feelings are mixed. Some students believe in reporting the offense immediately while others would decide to let the offense go in lieu of a poor evaluation.
Here are some examples from the thread:
The chief resident was staring at a medical students breasts, and made a ridiculous comment about them in front of the group.
A surgery attending asked if a student wanted to see his persian cucumber.
A resident created a nickname for a medical student, which happened to mean vagina in another language. He called her this in public.
An anesthesia attending touched a nurse inappropriately, but she just brushed it off.
A chief resident grabbed a medical students hands and would not let it go. He gave suggestions along the lines of she should come back with him.
See, here’s the problem. People are still scared to report inappropriate work environments, even when we’re dealing with something as serious as sexual harassment. Guys, we’re going to have to get rid of these ideas that your medical school has brainwashed you into believing if this kind of crap is ever going to stop.
I want to see sexual harassment offenders lose all practice priveleges, be terminated from the institution in which they practice, and have their medical license brought up for review by the licensing committee. If serious actions are taken, these assholes will quit thinking that they’re God and start playing nicely.
If you’re the victim of sexual harassment while on rotations as a student or resident, here’s what I think you should not do:
- Don’t bring up any complaints to junior staff. They’ll most likely side with their superior and probably don’t want to get involved with it anyway.
- Don’t mention the offense to the perpetrator. The offender knows that he or she is doing wrong and will blatantly deny that any offense ever took place.
- Do not take your complaint to the Dean of Medicine, or anybody else in the administration that is linked to the practice of clinical medicine or rotations at your institution. As explained earlier, they’ll do all they can to protect the school and program. You are not in their best interest.
- Do not wait until your grade is released to file a complaint. This could backfire on you.
- Do not threaten the perpetrator that you will turn them in. Let them think that all is harmless.
OK, so what should you do if you’re a victim of sexual harassment on rotations?
- Contact a lawyer for advice. Preferably get one that specializes in workplace sexual harassment abuse.
- Contact your hospital’s legal department and risk management informing them that you have been a victim of sexual harassment. Let them know you have already talked to your lawyer, which should expedite getting your appointment scheduled.
- Set up an appointment to talk to risk management about the incident and make sure that your lawyer accompanies you to the meeting.
In my opinion, you should bypass all clinical faculty completely. I know that administration tells you to let them know about problems such as these, but I honestly believe it’s because they want to intercept the problem before it reaches legal and/or risk management. Take it right to the source immediately.
What Are The Implications of Reporting?
Most of you might be worried about the implications of reporting an incident. I’m not going to lie and tell you that other attendings aren’t going to know that you were the one who squealed. I think you’ll find that the majority of attendings and staff are not going to show any ill-feelings towards you. You certainly will not be dismissed from school and your grades on other rotations shouldn’t suffer.
Take a lesson from the movie North Country and report the abuse. Only then will change take place.