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Understanding the Barriers to Reporting Sexual Harassment in Surgical Training

Freedman-Weiss, Mollie R. MD*; Chiu, Alexander S. MD, MPH*; Heller, Danielle R. MD*; Cutler, Abigail S. MD; Longo, Walter E. MD, MBA*; Ahuja, Nita MD, MBA*; Yoo, Peter S. MD*

doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000003295
Original Article: PDF Only

Objective: To investigate the occurrence, nature, and reporting of sexual harassment in surgical training and to understand why surgical trainees who experience harassment might not report it. This information will inform ways to overcome barriers to reporting sexual harassment.

Summary/ Background Data: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a known phenomenon with reports of high frequency in the medical field. Aspects of surgical training leave trainees especially vulnerable to harassing behavior. The characteristics of sexual harassment and reasons for its underreporting have yet to be studied on the national level in this population.

Methods: An electronic anonymous survey was distributed to general surgery trainees in participating program; all general surgery training programs nationally were invited to participate.

Results: Sixteen general surgery training programs participated, yielding 270 completed surveys (response rate of 30%). Overall, 48.9% of all respondents and 70.8% of female respondents experienced at least 1 form of sexual harassment during their training. Of the respondents who experienced sexual harassment, 7.6% reported the incident. The most common cited reasons for nonreporting were believing that the action was harmless (62.1%) and believing reporting would be a waste of time (47.7%).

Conclusion: Sexual harassment occurs in surgical training and is rarely reported. Many residents who are harassed question if the behavior they experienced was harassment or feel that reporting would be ineffectual—leading to frequent nonreporting. Surgical training programs should provide all-level education on sexual harassment and delineate the best mechanism for resident reporting of sexual harassment.

*Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.

Reprints: Peter S. Yoo, MD, FACS, 330 Cedar Street, FMB 121, New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail:

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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