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A new study published in JAMA Health Forum reveals that more than half of all new doctors experience some form of sexual harassment in their first year on the job, with nearly three-quarters of female doctors and a third of male doctors reporting incidents. While rates of sexual harassment have decreased slightly from five to six years prior, new doctors are now more likely to recognize such behavior as harassment, including gender-biased comments, unwanted romantic overtures, and pressure to engage in sexual activity. However, the study highlights the need for medical institutions to improve education and address all forms of sexual harassment.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and Medical University of South Carolina, suggests that some medical schools and hospitals have more work to do in addressing sexual harassment, particularly in the context of profession-related sexual coercion. Instances of profession-related sexual coercion, where individuals feel pressured to engage in sexual activity for professional advancement, have increased over the years, highlighting the persistence of this issue despite overall decreases in sexual harassment rates. Female interns reported feeling pressured in such situations more than their male counterparts.

The findings are based on surveys conducted as part of the Intern Health Study, which enrolls thousands of recent medical school graduates each year to monitor their experiences throughout their intern year. The study includes data from nearly 4,000 doctors who completed their intern year in 2017, 2018, or 2023. While more than half of the interns reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, only a fraction recognized it as such, highlighting the importance of raising awareness and challenging cultural norms that perpetuate sexual harassment in medicine.

The researchers also delved into the variations in experiences across different specialties and training locations in their JAMA Network Open paper. They found that interns in surgical and emergency medicine programs were more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to those in pediatrics or neurology programs. Additionally, interns at certain hospitals were more likely to report instances of sexual harassment, suggesting that residency programs and hospitals play a crucial role in addressing and preventing such behavior.

The study authors emphasize the need for greater awareness and action to combat sexual harassment in medical training programs. They stress the importance of creating a safe and equitable learning environment for physicians, free from the pervasive culture of harassment that has been allowed to persist for so long. By acknowledging the prevalence of sexual harassment in the medical field and taking steps to address it, institutions can work towards creating a more respectful and inclusive environment for future generations of healthcare professionals.

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