General views of the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) - held in the McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. Courtesy: 2019 ? ASCO/Max Gersh.

With a third of women in the United States reporting experiencing unwanted sexual advances, sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying is a major problem in the workplace, including healthcare practices and clinics. Furthermore, gender disparities have persisted in medicine and healthcare, despite over half of U.S. physicians under age 44 being female.

A survey funded by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY of U.S.-based physician members of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology found that 64% of respondents experienced sexual harassment in training or practice. The survey showed that among women the rate was 71% and among men it was 51%.

The purpose of the survey was to evaluate perceived gender biases, prevalence of sexual harassment, and how these affect physician growth and advancement in gynecologic oncology.

The results of the survey showed that only 10% of respondents reported the incident(s) to officials.

In addition, women were more likely than men to respond that gender affected career advancement (34% vs. 10%) and played a role in setting their salary (42% vs. 6%).

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The results of the survey were presented during the 55th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held in Chicago, ill, May 31 – June 4, 2019.

Widely discussed

The topic of sexual harassment has been widely discussed in the media as it applies to the movie, music, and sports industries, but conversation in the medical community has largely been limited to personal anecdotes discussed behind closed doors,? said lead study author Marina Stasenko, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY.

?Gender disparities have persisted in medicine despite a growing number of female physicians, and through our study we hope to increase awareness and acknowledgment of sexual harassment and gender inequalities within gynecologic oncology, hopefully leading to future interventions to address these disparities,? Stasenko added.

Study design
The study was designed to evaluate perceived gender biases, the prevalence of sexual harassment in training and the workplace, and the impact of gender and harassment on career growth and advancement. It was modeled, in part, on an Association of American Medical Colleges survey on this topic that has been conducted since 2012.

The anonymous survey was sent in October 2018 to all 1,566 U.S.-based Society of Gynecologic Oncology members who were physicians. Of those queried, 402 (26% response rate: 255 females (F), 147 males (M)) replied.

Female responders were younger, non-white (28% F, 11% M), not married (16% F, 3% M), and had fewer years in practice than males (p?0.001, each).

Key study results
Some form of sexual harassment during training or practice was experienced by 64% of all respondents: 71% of women and 51% of men. Only 10% reported the incident(s) to officials, 17% of women and 10% of men, although the difference is not statistically significant. The most common reasons for not reporting sexual harassment incident(s) to officials were?that respondents thought the incident(s) did not seem important enough (40%) or that nothing would be done about it (37%), and fear of retaliation (34%).

The most frequent forms of sexual harassment experienced by those in training or practice, respectively, were:

  • Being subjected to sexist remarks (58/51% of women and 28/24% of men).
  • Being denied opportunities for training (26/33% of women and 17/19% of men).
  • Unwanted sexual advances (30/23% of women and 27/28% of men).
  • Asked to exchange sexual favors for academic positions (4% of women and 2% of men, equally in training and practice).

Additional survey results included:

  • 31% of women and 14% of men said they received lower evaluations or academic positions as a result of harassment.
  • 34% of women stated that gender had affected their career advancement, compared with 10% of men.
  • 42% of women stated that gender played a role in setting their salary, compared with 6% of men.
  • 57% of women perceived a gender pay gap, compared with 9% of men.

Expert Opinion

Commenting on the survey results, Merry-Jennifer Markham, MD, FACP, Interim Chief of the Division of Hematology & Oncology and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at University of Florida (UF) Health, noted: “We know sexual harassment is a widespread societal issue, and it is increasingly recognized that sexual harassment affects many women in medicine ? and as this study shows, also some men ? both during training as well as in practice.”

“As this study makes clear, we have a responsibility to raise awareness so that sexual harassment and other issues related to gender bias can be addressed at a broader level, with the ultimate goal of making the workplace safer and more equitable for everyone,? she observed.

Markham was not involved in the study.

What’s next
Lead study author Stasenko concluded that she hopes this study leads to a larger conversation about sexual harassment in the medical field and serves as a launch pad for further actions.

Study Overview

Study Focus?? Sexual harassment in the field of gynecologic oncology
Study TypeSurvey of physicians
Survey Respondents402
Aspect SurveyedRate of sexual harassment
Primary Finding64% of respondents experienced sexual harassment
Secondary Finding(s)10% reported the sexual harassment incident(s)


[1] Stasenko M, Tarney CM, Veith M, Seier K, Casablanca Y, Brown CL. Survey of sexual harassment and gender disparities among gynecologic oncologists. J Clin Oncol 37, 2019 (suppl; abstr LBA10502) [Abstract]

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