A third of female doctors in the US face sexual harassment on the job, a new study of high-achieving physician-scientists led by an Indian-origin researcher has found. "This is a sobering reminder that our society has a long way to go before we achieve gender equity," said Reshma Jagsi, from the University of Michigan Medical School. Researchers surveyed 1,066 men and women who had received a career development award between 2006-2009 from the US National Institutes of Health. These awards are given to promising physician-scientists to develop their career as independent investigators. The physicians are now mid-career; average age when surveyed was 43, researchers said. Physicians were asked a number of questions about their career experiences, including questions about gender bias, gender advantage and sexual harassment. Women were more likely than men to report both perceptions and experiences with gender bias: 70 per cent of women vs 22 per cent of men perceived gender bias, and 66 per cent of women vs 10 per cent of men said they experienced gender bias. In addition, 30 per cent of women compared to 4 per cent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment in their professional careers. "The perception among many of us is that this type of behaviour is a thing of the past.
So it's sobering to see quite how many relatively young women in this sample reported experiences with harassment and discrimination," Jagsi said. As women now make up about half of medical school students, the researchers emphasise the importance of recognising unconscious bias as well as overtly inappropriate behaviours. "We need to recognise the degree to which sexual harassment and gender inequality continue to be an issue in academic medicine," Jagsi said. "Women who experience these types of harassment may be less likely to report these incidents if they feel they are unique and aberrational. Our data shows this is not an unusual situation and reflects a larger societal problem," said Jagsi. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.