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Sexual harassment is real, it happens and it is happening now within our NHS. It can cause severe distress to the afflicted - even to the extent that the end result is illness.
But what is sexual harassment and what should we be doing to address it?
The first step is talking about it. People need to be educated about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to deal with it.
I am sure that at some point in our medical studies or NHS career every one of us will come across an individual who has been subjected to sexual harassment or sexual workplace ‘banter’. The individual may feel embarrassed and be confused about whether the situation would be deemed sexual harassment at all, they may not know how to address their colleague/patient or they may not know what to do. Conversely, the offender themselves may not even be aware that their behaviour is unacceptable. It is this combination of events that leads to underreporting of sexual harassment. Yet, all of these factors can be addressed simply through education.
Last month at the annual MSC conference with the BMA, I proposed a motion to tackle this issue head on. I hoped to inspire likeminded young leaders that the topic of education aimed at dealing with sexual harassment is an important one. I succeeded. Now, I wish to raise awareness of sexual harassment among our network of medical professionals and students.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and takes many forms:
Importantly, whilst females more commonly report sexual harassment, we must remember that it affects everyone. Of more concern is the fact that men may feel less able to come forward with their experiences and such a culture of silence cannot continue.
We need to be better informed about sexual harassment and prepare ourselves to deal with it. Let's create a movement towards appropriate education, which can aid us with this fight. Where better to start than within the Medical School curriculum.
A recent report form the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment within healthcare . The findings were startling and must urge us to continue to ‘talk about it and educate around it’.
For more information about sexual harassment the UN put together a great document, accessible at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh.pdf
1. The Expert Advisory Group to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons report- ‘Discrimination, Bullying and Sexual Harassment Prevalence Survey’
It is so common in the workplace and this article is correct in saying that it affects both men and women. Even though I am only beginning my career as an F1 yesterday I was cannulating a patient. As I knelt down beside her she remarked "Oh it's so lovely to have a nice young man kneel down by me, a young man hasn't done that for me in years, it would be even better if you would kneal by my down below if you want". It wasn't what she said that struck me the most after I had cannulated her but more the fact that it is so common place that I barely reacted as I have now become used to constant inappropriate remarks from female patients and staff alike, be it this, being scored on my appearance, or being "cheekily" slapped as I walk down a hospital corridor.
Thanks for your helpful blog. I am fascinated by this issue which continues in society as well as medical school and postgraduate training despite progress. As part of my clinical education masters, I am researching harassment and discrimination in medical education and working on solutions for its prevention using both primary and secondary data.
Students worldwide and in UK medical schools report 'everyday' harassment: inappropriate touching, unwanted advances, slurs, stereotyped assumptions based on students' sexuality, ethnicity, religion. Commonly these do not appear to be deliberate attempts to make students uncomfortable but rather the consequence of a lack of understanding about what the impact of such behaviours can have. Students tend to report only to friends or close mentors, and rarely report events to medical faculties because reporting systems are often far removed from students lives and they fear the consequence of reporting, particularly on their education and wellbeing. The impacts of harassment and discrimination are widespread, marginalisation, negatively impacting students' wellbeing and sense of safety, as well as discouraging students from entering specialty training where they have experienced these events with implications for workforce planning.
Whilst much progress has been made in recent decades, I will propose 21st century solutions building on the work of Recupero and others in the United States. Everyone responsible for medical students education (including foundation doctors, registrars, consultants, faculty staff) has a huge impact on medical students and should be aware of their role in combatting harassment and discrimination in their own practice and colleagues. Education for all teaching staff including clinicians should go beyond online tutorials to involved, meaningful discussions of what is harassment for students and how can it be stopped. Reporting systems should be more accessible and proactively encourage students to report regardless of the severity of the situation. Routine monitoring of student wellbeing could easily fit alongside educational evaluation e.g. at the end of a placement students could be asked about their wellbeing and any experiences of harassment. This could fit into a faculty-wide programme that reports on an annual basis.
Whilst my work is in its infancy, I aim to finish and publish within the next few months. If anyone is interested in finding more or collaboration I am happy to be contacted or you can read more at dareresearchstudy.weebly.com
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