Despite concerns about its prevalence and ramifications, harassment has not been well quantified among physicians. Previous published studies have been small, have surveyed only 1 site or a convenience sample, and have suffered from selection bias.
Our database is the Women Physicians' Health Study, a large (4501 respondents; response rate, 59%), nationally distributed questionnaire study. We analyzed responses concerning gender-based and sexual harassment.
Overall, 47.7% of women physicians reported ever experiencing gender-based harassment, and 36.9% reported sexual harassment. Harassment was more common while in medical school (31% for gender-based and 20% for sexual harassment) or during internship, residency, or fellowship (29% for gender-based and 19% for sexual harassment) than in practice (25% for gender-based and 11% for sexual harassment). Respondents more likely to report gender-based harassment were physicians who were now divorced or separated and those specializing in historically male specialties, whereas those of Asian and other (nonwhite, nonblack, non-Asian, non-Hispanic) ethnicity, those living in the East, and those self-characterized as politically very conservative were less likely to report gender-based harassment. Being younger, born in the United States, or divorced or separated were correlated with reporting ever experiencing sexual harassment; those who were Asian or who were currently working in group or government settings were less likely to report it. Those who felt in control of their work environments, were satisfied with their careers, and would choose again to become physicians reported lower prevalences of ever experiencing harassment. Those with histories of depression or suicide attempts were more likely to report ever having been harassed.
Women physicians commonly perceive that they have been harassed. Experiences of and sensitivity to harassment differ among individuals, and there may be substantial professional and personal consequences of harassment. Since reported rates of sexual harassment are higher among younger physicians, the situation may not be improving.