“Hey, Sweetie.” When a physician’s #MeToo story involves a patient

Physicians have quietly shared stories about sexual harassment and microaggressions from patients for years. This year, Medscape published their first “Patients Sexually Harassing Physicians Report,” where they found that one in four physicians had been sexually harassed by a patient in the past 3 years. In the wake of #MeToo, some physicians have shared their personal stories of harassment by patients in the medical literature, and there have been calls to better protect physicians from these incidents.

As physicians and authors of this post, all of us have experienced sexual harassment by patients. Medicine is our passion, and we continue doing our jobs. We have a calling and obligation to care for people despite harassment and bias that we may encounter and we recognize that typical workplace protections may not apply to our occupation. We think about the fact that we wield privilege with our medical degrees, and our patients may experience significant barriers such as mental illness and prior traumas. We recognize that many patients may not intend to harass us, yet their actions and microaggressions still have significant impact on our daily lives, safety at work and formation of our identities as physicians. We echo the calls for all types of systemic protections and supports for all physicians experiencing these incidents, as well as better supports for patients who may harass physicians.

One of the reasons why the #MeToo movement has been so impactful is the individual stories that men and women have been brave enough to share. In this spirit, we, a group of female physicians at the University of California, San Francisco, started the SHARE (Sexual Harassment and REporting) collaborative to give all physicians the opportunity to anonymously contribute their own stories around experiences of sexual harassment by patients and their families.

We believe that gathering individual stories around sexual harassment of physicians by patients can help peers and institutions better understand the circumstances where sexual harassment is likely to occur, how it affects the physician experiencing harassment and how physicians cope after an incident. While not intended to replace formal reporting of incidents we encourage you to share your story with us.  If you are a physician interested in contributing your story to the SHARE collaborative, please anonymously tell us your story.

Shirin Hemmat is an internal medicine resident. Anjana Sharma is a family physician. Elaine Khoong and Urmimala Sarkar are internal medicine physicians. The authors would like to thank Sarah Lisker for her contributions to this blog post.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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