The #MeToo movement has made us all aware of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in a variety of industries and job settings, and it's given a lot of people the courage and the awareness to fight it. Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is not immune, and nurses — mostly female — often bear the brunt of sexual harassment.
Findings from a 2017 Medscape poll of over 1,000 healthcare workers are disturbing. More than seven in 10 nurses surveyed (90 percent of whom are women) experienced some form of harassment, compared to nearly half of physicians (with 41 percent of those being women).
Harassment, for purposes of the survey, was defined as "patients stalking, persistent attempts at communication, and inappropriate social media contact," though the study did separately ask about sexual harassment. It noted, "By gender, female nurses and physicians were much more likely to say they had been sexually harassed than their male counterparts (73% for female nurses vs 46% for male nurses, and 58% for female vs 39% for male physicians)."
The Naked Truth
An NBC News report citing the survey also attempted to come up with reasons why. Dr. Seun Ross, the director of nursing practice and work environment at the American Nurses Association, pointed out that sexual harassment has "been going on for decades" in nursing, adding, "I think sexual harassment in general is probably one of the most persistent problems in the workplace, but in terms of nursing, the lines are blurred because we see patients in their most vulnerable state, some that require patients to get naked, and unfortunately, people take certain liberties that they wouldn't have had they been fully clothed."
She went on to note that ethics complicate issues for nurses and other healthcare team members who experience harassment. If a customer harasses an employee in a place of business, for instance, the business can physically remove the customer and ban him or her from re-entering. Healthcare facilities, on the other hand, are under an ethical obligation to treat patients, some of whom may have impaired faculties because of illness or medication.
Healthcare providers should take responsibility for handling harassment of their employees, particularly when it involves fellow employees or physicians with practicing privileges at those facilities. But nurses need to also have a plan of action, particularly for situations involving patients.
What to Do If You're Harassed
A Scrubs article on sexual harassment states that it's preferable to confront the person doing the harassing to let him or her know it's not acceptable. However, you might not feel safe confronting the person yourself — in those cases, you should enlist the help of a fellow team member or supervisor to address the situation.
Then, it's important to report and document the incident — as the Scrubs article points out, it's an underreported problem that remains so because nurses try to "have a thick skin" and "shrug it off." Documentation provides evidence of the harassment. Ideally, your employer will use the information to act on your behalf; if not, the documentation will help you move forward in seeking resolution.
The #MeToo movement has made us all much more aware of what sexual harassment involves, and many of us have grown more sensitive and more attuned to those who have been affected by it. It's important to be on guard if and when it does happen, and to be prepared for what to do should it occur.
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Sources:Scrubs: A Closer Look at Sexual Harassment in the Nursing Industry
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