Discrimination and sexual harassment commonly affect female academic hospitalists, survey finds

A survey study of 336 internal medicine hospitalists at 18 academic institutions in the U.S. found that women were more likely than men to report experiencing sexual harassment by patients, and nearly all women reported being mistaken by patients for nonphysician clinicians over their careers.


Gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment were commonly reported by female academic hospitalists in a recent study.

Researchers surveyed internal medicine hospitalists at 18 university-based academic institutions in the U.S. from January through June 2019. Survey questions assessed their experiences regarding gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment in their interactions with both patients and other clinicians. Results were published online Jan. 20 by the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

Overall, 336 individuals (56.7% women) responded to the survey. Female hospitalists more frequently reported sexual harassment (e.g., inappropriate touching or gestures, sexual remarks, and suggestive looks) by patients compared with their male peers, both over their careers and in the last 30 days (P<0.001 for both). Compared to men, women more frequently reported being referred to with inappropriate terms of endearment (e.g., “dear,” “honey,” “sweetheart”) by patients, both over their careers and in the last 30 days (P<0.001 for both). Almost 100% of women reported being mistaken by patients for nonphysician clinicians over their careers, compared with 29% of men, and in the last 30 days, these figures were 76% and 10%, respectively (P<0.001 for both). Women also more frequently reported sexual harassment over their careers (P<0.05) and rated their sense of respect, both by patients and colleagues, lower than men did (P<0.001 for all). Finally, more women than men reported that gender negatively impacted their career opportunities (P<0.001).

Since the survey was limited to academic medical centers, these results may not reflect experiences in community or private practice settings, the authors noted. They added that the small number of participants limited their ability to perform subgroup analyses by age, race, or years in practice and that it is unknown how many physicians received the survey; therefore, they could not calculate a response rate.

“This survey shows that gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment in the academic hospitalist healthcare environment are common and more frequently experienced by female physicians, both in interactions with patients and colleagues,” the authors concluded. “Our study highlights the need to address this prevalent issue among academic hospitalists.”