When Will Medicine Join the Women's Movement?

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More women are running for office than ever before, and the #MeToo and Time's Up movements have continued to take the United States by storm.
More women are running for office than ever before, and the #MeToo and Time's Up movements have continued to take the United States by storm.

This has been a defining year for women's issues. More women are running for office than ever before, and the #MeToo and Time's Up movements have continued to take the United States by storm. However, despite all this momentum building through election season, it seems the healthcare industry is still lagging behind.

A recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine confirms that sexual harassment is a problem across all fields of science. The issue is so severe that about half of female medical students have reported experiencing sexual harassment.1

"If there is anything the report makes clear, however, it is that medicine is ill prepared to take meaningful steps toward actually ending harassment," Esther K. Choo, MD, from the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, and colleagues wrote in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in response to the National Academies report.2

The article by Dr Choo and colleagues outlines how medical institutions are falling short of ending sexual harassment and how they can make changes to address those issues.

The biggest problem lies in the fact that institutions typically address a sexual harassment claim when it arises, rather than actively implementing a culture to ensure respect for all.

"By...taking a preventive approach that seeks a broad range of solutions well before the point at which sexual harassment charges are made and legal actions taken -- we gain the opportunity to examine harassment openly and frankly," Dr Choo and colleagues wrote. "Such a strategy would allow us to shift our attention to primary and secondary prevention of sexual harassment and away from our current approach of waiting for full-blown, metastatic manifestations of harassment, then bemoaning our inability to eradicate it."

One of the reasons why institutions are hesitant to enact a cultural change of this level, according to the article, is because they do not see the incentive in doing so. They are not aware of the "significant and costly loss of talent" that can result from a hostile work environment.

"When a problem has been neglected for so long, the tendency is to dismiss it as not urgent," the authors wrote. "But an indolent problem can also be a critical one.... We believe that those in the medical field must make a decision: Join the movement, or stand by and fall behind."

References

1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Sexual harassment of women: climate, culture, and consequences in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2018.

2. Choo EK, van Dis J, Kass D. Time's up for medicine? Only time will tell [published online September 12, 2018]. N Engl J Med. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1809351

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