“The Courage to Speak Up”: Silence Is Not an Appropriate Response to Sexual Harassment from Patients

November 28, 2018 | Strategic Insights for Health System


When physicians are silent after witnessing patients verbally harassing trainees, they send "several powerful messages," reinforcing that sexual comments are acceptable or inconsequential or that such problems are too big to solve, according to the authors of November 20, 2018, opinion piece in JAMA. The authors, two female physicians, recount sexual harassment by patients that they experienced when they were medical residents or students. One doctor recalled a patient sneering, "Why don't you just leave the pretty girl here until you get back . . . I'm sure I could find plenty of things to do with her all day." The other recalled a patient who expressed surprise that she could be a doctor because she had blonde hair. In both cases, the patients' remarks were met by all those present—including attending physicians, residents, and family members—with silence. This situation must change, the authors urge.

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