Editor's Note: which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Rebekah Bernard, MD, a family physician at Gulf Coast Direct Primary Care in Fort Myers, Florida. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of or UBM Medica.
Recently, a friend who is a seasoned physician shared a disconcerting experience she had with one of her patients.
MORE FROM DR. BERNARD: Top 7 reasons women doctors need prenups
“I called him to review his lab results, and out of the blue, he said, ‘You know, if I wasn’t married, we would be together.’”
My friend was stunned. “I felt like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to say, or how to respond. I just ignored the comment, and asked if he had any questions about his lab results.”
Unfortunately, ignoring the comment didn’t work. “Don’t get so excited,” the patient said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. The rest of the phone conversation was incredibly awkward, as my friend tried to redirect the conversation back to the patient’s plan of care.
My friend is not alone in experiencing this type of inappropriate remark, with studies showing that most women physicians—52% in one study and 75% in another—have been sexually harassed at some point in their career by patients.
In general, women tend to find themselves responding to sexual harassment with feelings of embarrassment, anger and frustration. These types of emotions can be particularly problematic for female physicians, as they are likely to create a negative impact on the physician-patient relationship, and make it harder provide the best quality of care.
Although most women report that they would want to confront sexism, the reality is that when it does occur, we overwhelmingly stay silent, either due to embarrassment, lack of preparation or uncertainty of how to respond, or concern for how our response will be received.