Sexual harassment widespread among doctors and medical students

The health care industry possesses many traits that contribute to its high rate of sexual harassment among doctors and medical students. Medical schools and hospitals in Tennessee and around the country operate under hierarchical structures and tend to have male-dominated leaderships. Researchers have identified these characteristics as a breeding ground for sexual harassment. Surveys of female doctors show that as many as 70 percent of them have experienced harassment on the job. Sometimes half of female medical students have been sexually harassed before graduating.

Many tactics could enable organizations to reduce harassment. Policies should convey respect for all staff members and commit to fostering a safe environment. Sexual harassment victims should have an easy way to report abuses. Organizations should investigate all claims consistently and discipline perpetrators regardless of their rank. Independent investigators and counselors could aid organizations in creating a fair and impartial process for handling complaints.

Medical organizations have a lot to gain by addressing mistreatment of employees and students. When victims turn to litigation, the costs could run high. Such was the case for one medical university that settled for $215 million after a staff gynecologist assaulted patients.

Because of the potential liabilities, many organizations only try to limit complaints and avoid litigation instead of actually addressing the problem. They sometimes allow harassers to retire or move to different positions. A person confronted by a work environment that wants to shield a perpetrator could discuss the harassment activities with an attorney. After organizing evidence, an attorney could communicate the complaint to the organization and pursue damages through negotiations. At times, a case might advance to the courtroom where an attorney could strive to explain how the harassment violated the law and damaged the person's capacity to earn a living.

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