The Prevalence of Sexual Harassment among Female Family Practice Residents in the United States

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment as defined by the AMA among female family practice residents in the United States. Of all 1,802 U.S. FP female resident physicians surveyed, a total of 916, or 51%, completed a survey of which 32% reported unwanted sexual advances, 48% reported use of sexist teaching material, 66% reported favortism based on gender, 36% reported poor evaluation based on gender, 37% reported malicious gossip, 5.3% reported punitive measures based on gender, and 2.2% reported sexual assault during residency. Thirty two percent of respondents reporting sexual harassment experienced negative effects including poor self-esteem, depression, psychological sequelae requiring therapy, and in some cases, transferring training programs. Sexual harassment is a common occurrence among family practice residents during residency training. Further studies are needed to examine the effect of sexual harassment policies instituted by the American Graduate Council on Medical Education on the prevalence of sexual harassment in medical training since the time of this study.

Dr. Frances Conley's resignation from Stanford University Medical School in May 1991 brought national attention to the continued existence of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the medical community (Perrone,1991). In a profession which has a great responsibility to maintain professionalism and provide discipline to its members to assure delivery of high quality medical care, it is essential to have an awareness of the extent of the problem, its effects on the victim, and the protocols available for prevention and disciplinary purposes (Vacanti, 1989). Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are prohibited by law under the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Gervasi, 1984). The potentially devastating effects of sexual harassment in the workplace include depression, anxiety, increased stress, and loss of job motivation (Terpstra, 1987). Victims may harbor self-doubt and have lasting emotional scars (Murphy, 1986).

The medical community has the opportunity to set a standard for itself and other disciplines of preventing sexual harassment and avoiding the devastating effects associated with it (American Medical Association, 1991). In 1991, the American Medical Association Council on Ethics issued Guidelines for Establishing Sexual Harassment Prevention and Grievance Procedures which defined sexual harassment and outlined grievance procedures( AMA, 1991). The AMA guidelines include the following definition of sexual harassment: "...sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or academic success, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment or academic decisions affecting such an individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or academic environment (AMA, 1991)."

At the time the AMA's guidelines were introduced, 90% of medical schools in the U.S. and 50% of residency programs claimed to have formal policies or grievance procedures dealing with this issue (AMA, 1991). In recent years, the American Council of Graduate Medical Education has included in its general requirements if a residency program has a policy and grievance procedure on sexual harassment, that it be made available to its residents in order to be accredited (AMA, 1993).


Previous studies reported in the medical literature have examined both males and females pursuing a medical degree at various stages of their training including the medical school student level and the postgraduate residency level. Other research has sampled practicing female physicians. …