Sexual harassment can create an uncomfortable work environment in any profession, and the medical field is no exception. With the number of women enrolled in United States medical schools exceeding the number of men enrolled for the first time in 2017 and then again in 2018, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, research is being conducted to learn more about how women are treated in the medical profession.

The results of a study on sexual harassment in the medical field, headed by Dr. Linda Pololi, a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center and distinguished research scientist at the University, were published in the American Journal of Medicine on July 11, according to a Sept. 17 BrandeisNOW article.

As the director of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine and the Culture-Change director of the C-Change Mentoring and Leadership Institute, Pololi’s work is about improving the overall culture of academic medicine. The BrandeisNOWarticle highlighted one research program her team conducted on sexual harassment experienced by female medical residents. 

In an interview with the Justice, Pololi said that for ten years her team was doing research on the overall culture of academic medicine between residents and faculty, and included in a survey was a question specifically about sexual harassment. In the past, Pololi only compiled data about sexual harassment, but as part of this study, she analyzed that data. The survey included the statement, “I have personally experienced unwanted sexual comments, attention or advances by a superior or colleagues at my institution.” The residents and faculty had to answer whether this had been true anytime within the last two years, longer ago than the past two years or not at all.

According to the study, the data was collected from 1,700 residents via survey at 14 different medical institutions across the United States. 51% of the respondents were women, and Pololi said that only the data of the female residents was analyzed. According to the research paper, 12% of women who were completing general surgery residencies, seven percent of women completing internal medicine residencies and 2% in pediatric residencies reported sexual harassment by their superiors or colleagues. The highest levels of sexual harassment were reported by residents who identified as LGBTQ. Pololi told the Justice that 19% of those who self-identify as LGBTQ have experienced harassment in the workplace. Ultimately, such harassment caused women to be “less energized by work and [have] higher levels of ethical or moral distress,” per the BrandeisNOW article.

Pololi told the Justice that it was to be expected that pediatrics saw the lowest levels of sexual harassment among residents because 70% of pediatric faculty are women. By contrast, in internal medicine and surgery, 36% and 19% of faculty are women, respectively. However, the number of women in internal medicine and surgery is on the rise. Between 40 and 45 percent of residents entering these fields are women, Pololi said.

Pololi emphasized that by improving the overall culture in academic medicine, which is what C-Change aims to accomplish, the practice of medicine will improve for all.  

The other authors of this paper were Brandeis’ Senior Research Scientist for C-Change Dr. Robert Brennan, Brandeis’ Senior Research Associate for C-Change Dr. Janet Civian, The Committee of Interns and Residents Policy and Education Initiative Program Director Sandra Shae, Assessment Program Manager at Yale School of Medicine Emma Brennan-Wydra and Professor of Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College Dr. Arthur Evans.