Radiology leaders must step up to end sexual harassment in medicine

Radiology is becoming a central part of medicine as a whole, and it’s critical the specialty create an inclusive, diverse and collaborative environment. That means radiology leaders need to step up and make it known that harassment will not be tolerated.

Physician authors of a new commentary published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology set out to do just that, tracing the current state of sexual harassment in radiology and what professionals can do to address such behavior.

Below are takeaways and tips from their article:

Harassment continues in radiology and the entirety of medicine

A 2018 report released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that, in one sample of respondents, female medical students were 220% more likely to have experienced sexual harassment by faculty or staff compared to students from non-science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

Similar statistics appear in many other surveys focused on the topic, including a 2016 radiology-specific study which found 24.4% of women and 4.4% of men experienced sexual harassment.

Importantly, Chithra R. Perumalswami, MD, MSc, with the University of Michigan, and colleagues wrote that clinicians who identify with “social minority identities” across race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability and immigration status also face harassment.

“Although harassers of all genders exist, evidence suggests that specialties in which men outnumber women may be even more likely to have problems with sexual harassment than specialties in which the numbers are more equal,” Perumalswami and co-authors wrote. “Radiology has far more male providers than female ones and, in the United States, struggles with a lack of diversity by sex, ethnicity, and race.”

Individual radiologists can have a big impact

Radiologists come into contact with nearly every medical subspecialty in the healthcare system and should be prepared to intervene as bystanders to interrupt harassment and support those targeted by such behavior.

Perumalswami et al. suggested assessing the “immediacy of intervention” and the “level of involvement” needed for individual situations. For example, a radiologist may advise a victim to report harassing behavior and offer support in a low immediacy, low-involvement situation. A more serious intervention would be to directly confront the harasser.

For comparison, in a more dire situation, a radiologist should know they have the power to remove the victim from the immediate situation. A high-involvement option would be to directly intervene and perhaps tell the victim to publicly report the abusive behavior.

Institutions need to step up and encourage change

Realistically, the authors wrote, cultural transformation will be needed to prevent sexual harassment. They offered 15 recommendations for institutions to consider. Below are a few:

1. Address gender harassment—the most common form of sexual harassment.

2. Improve transparency and accountability.

3. Offer support systems for victims.

4. Measure progress and incentive change.

5. Include professional societies and organizations to help.

6. Conduct research on the topic.

“Leaders in radiology, like leaders everywhere, must make clear that harassing behaviors will not be tolerated and that those who have committed harassment will be held accountable,” the team wrote. “Only by doing so can we foster the respectful and civil environment necessary to permit the diversity, dignity, and inclusivity that benefits our specialty, the profession of medicine as a whole, and the patients we serve.”