Report finds big sexual harassment problem in academic medicine

People in Tennessee pursuing a career in medicine might be most vulnerable to harassment at work during their training in academic settings. A study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine identified academic medicine as an environment where sexual harassment occurred nearly twice as often compared to workplaces for other engineering and science sectors.

A survey of medical trainees across multiple institutions indicated that harassers came from both faculty and staff. The widespread harassment raised stress for trainees, reduced their performance and increased burnout. The report concluded that the mistreatment drove away talented people and threatened the mission of public health.

An assistant dean at one medical school said that harassment involved a spectrum of actions of differing severity, ranging from telling dirty jokes to demanding sexual favors in exchange for research grants. When harassers are faculty offenders, they can be difficult to remove from positions of power. In one case, a man who held an endowed chair at Yale University and harassed junior colleagues did not experience consequences until over 1,000 concerned parties signed a petition and the media publicized the story. The entire process took five years.

A person who suspects that management could ignore a complaint might want legal support before proceeding. A consultation with an attorney may provide guidance about employment law and how to report sexual harassment. Legal representation might also insulate a person from retaliation that could happen at workplaces that tolerate unlawful behavior. An attorney may alert the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the problem and manage communications with the employer during the investigation. While negotiating with the employer, an attorney may strive to defend the person's rights and secure a reasonable settlement for damages.

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