While all specialties in medicine are affected by sexual
Dr. Girgis has created her own mnemonic that she recommends for physicians in training:
harassment and gender discrimination, certain specialties are disproportionately affected and have historically reported higher rates — in particular, surgery and its subspecialties. One study in cardiothoracic surgery revealed that 90% of women trainees had experienced sexual harassment. Of women residents in general surgery training programs, over 70% reported experiencing sexual harassment. Another study in vascular surgery showed that 52% of women trainees had experienced sexual harassment, with the surgeon in the operating room most commonly being the perpetrator.” – Christina Girgis, M.D. and gender discrimination) has been found to decrease over time with training, as medical students have a higher perception than residents and fellows of the same behaviors. This indicates that either trainees learn to normalize harassment as part of the culture of medicine, or they develop a sense of learned helplessness to make it through the grueling years of residency.” It catches up with them. When women reach the age of residency, she writes, those who have experienced sexual harassment “reported higher rates of ethical or moral distress, and lower levels of vitality, or being energized by work.” Dr. Girgis cites a study surveying medical students and residents that showed those who experienced sexual harassment also reported “negative effects on feelings of safety and comfort at work, attitudes toward patients, ability to perform duties and general mental health.”
16 I G N I T I N G
With such alarming evidence of distress and harm to women, Dr. Girgis looked for solutions. So far, she said, “little policy or guidelines have been implemented by governing bodies for our most vulnerable population, resident physicians and medical students, despite that much attention has been paid to other issues impacting their well-being.” One bright spot she cites as an example of how things could improve: Since January 2020, health care professionals who renew their license in Illinois (Dr. Girgis lives in Chicago) have been required to complete sexual harassment training first. The topic of sexual harassment is rarely discussed in medical school or residency, says Dr. Girgis. And in the end, responsibility for ensuring that trainees feel competent to manage the issue rests with those at the top.
T H E PA S S I O N O F P H Y S I C I A N S , P H A R M A C I S T S A N D H E A LT H C A R E R E S E A R C H E R S
C E T
OTICE if a patient
is sexually harassing you or someone else.
any possible safety concerns in the room.
in order to determine next steps.
XIT when feeling
unsafe; express yourself if feeling uncomfortable.
ALK about the
behavior and not the person.
EPEAT and redirect
as needed during the discussion.
OU have a right to a
safe and comfortable work environment.