Sexual harassment has become a common theme in news headlines, between the #MeToo movement bringing the prevalence of harassment to light and the #TimesUp movement’s call for action to combat harassment. The field of medicine is facing its own #TimesUp moment. Emergency physicians Esther Choo, MD, MPH, associate professor at the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and Dara Kass, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, weighed in on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the medical field and the damage it is doing to the house of medicine in a recently published article in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article focused on a recent report about sexual harassment, stating:
“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a report on sexual harassment of women working in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine.1 Its findings are deeply disturbing: sexual harassment is common across scientific fields, has not abated, and remains a particular problem in medicine, where potential sources of harassment include not just colleagues and supervisors, but also patients and their families.”2
AECP Now Medical Editor-in-Chief, Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, posed some questions to Dr. Choo and Dr. Kass about their article and the NASEM report. Here are their responses.
KK: What was the recent NASEM report about, and who was involved?
EC and DK: The report was a review of the literature on sexual harassment in academic settings of science, engineering, and medicine. It was compiled by a team of senior scholars and leaders in these fields. It found that sexual harassment is highly prevalent across these fields, particularly in medicine, and does not appear to be improving. Institutions’ approaches to sexual harassment are largely focused on avoiding litigation rather than actually improving the problem, the report states.
KK: What is the impact of these findings? In other words, how should this help health care delivery and the specialty of emergency medicine?
EC and DK: The report made clear that while sexual harassment has a profound negative effect on the targets of harassment, it also has a harmful effect on entire organizations in terms of workforce engagement and productivity. This should help us realize that in order to deliver the best health care to our patients, we need to address this issue.
“The same forces that create a gender salary gap and limit opportunities for women also foster sexual harassment. You can’t peel these issues apart and address them in isolation; they are absolutely connected.”
—Esther Choo, MD, MPH and Dara Kass, MD
KK: Are all of the issues surrounding gender equity isolated or are they intertwined?