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Sexual Harassment in Hospitals
Existence of sexual harassment in the hospital setup in its varied forms has been clearly confirmed by exhaustive studies. It is unfortunate that such insidious practices have invaded the serene hospital environment. Sexual harassment, in whatever form it exists, must be rooted out and this demands immediate attention and positive intervention from the human resource professionals.
Sexual harassment has of late become a matter of serious concern for human resource professionals in any corporate environment. The hospice environment in particular has a high incidence of sexual harassment and unprofessional exploitation. Recent researches conducted worldwide have revealed that the healthcare sector is one area where there is an increasing prevalence of sexual harassment and doctors, nurses and the patients have all been vulnerable and victimized. In most cases hospital management lend a deaf ear to this growing menace, which only worsens the scenario. A discussion on the different cases and issues pertaining to sexual assault and misbehavior in the hospital environment bears much importance in highlighting the problem.
Nursing Staff (Sexual Harassment)
The hospital setup with its own unique relationships between the physician, nurse, and the patients creates a fertile ground for potential offenders who do not respect the moral and ethical integrity of the medical profession, to create an inhospitable work environment. Nursing staff are the most affected by sexual harassment by physicians and other co-workers. The professional standing of the nurses as playing a subordinate role to the doctors lends them as natural targets and easy victims for sexual harassment. The proximity with the physicians, which the job demands leaves them more exposed to potential misbehavior from the physicians. Furthermore the prevailing hierarchical nature within the medical sector and the difference in professional status tend to work in favor of the physicians. In view of their career considerations most women in the nursing profession are putting up with this insulting and sexually harassing behavior without much of resistance. [Anita Hoffman]
Some statistical data would help us get a better insight into the prevailing situation in the health care industry. A recent study conducted revealed that around 69% to 85% of nurses have reported to have been subjected to some kind of sexual harassment in their workplace. Another independent study conducted on 188 intensive care nurses revealed that more than 46% of them had undergone sexual harassment in one form or the other and that in almost 82% of the cases the offenders were the physicians. Studies have also revealed that harassment of nurses in the perioperative setup is more than the other areas of the healthcare industry. [Anita Hoffman] The Alberta university study, which analyzed the workplace violence in the hospitals, also confirmed the fact that nurses are the most vulnerable group in the hospital environment for abuse and sexual assault from patients and physicians. The study, which involved 9000 nurses from Alberta and British Columbia, indicated that one out of five nurses admitted to being sexually assaulted at least once during the last five shifts. [Phoebe Dey]
Sexual Harassment (Doctor / Patient)
Another form of sexual harassment that is common is between the doctor and the patient. Research has proved that instances of both the doctors exploiting the patients as well the patients stalking and sexually harassing the doctors (particularly female) are equally common. A research conducted way back in 1992 confirmed that female physicians are prone to sexual harassment by their patients. For the study 422 female physicians in Ontario were surveyed and 75% of them admitted to sexual harassment of one kind or the other by their male patients. These female physicians also reported a high incidence of sexual harassment during their medical training period by their superiors. These instances of sexual misbehavior by their superiors are often unreported because the career prospects of the students hinged on the evaluation of the superiors. [Susan P. Phillips]
One area where there is increasing occurrence of sexual harassment by physicians is the psychiatric clinics. Due to the control that the doctors have over the patient's mind there is high rate of sexual harassment in the psychiatric setup. As an example of this clinical misbehavior is the case of Dr. John Hamilton, former deputy director of the American psychological Association (APA), who was stripped off his license (in 1992) for engaging in forceful sexual misconduct with his patient. During the last ten years 113 psychiatrists have been either suspended or dismissed by the APA. [Church of Scientology] Similarly there are other reported instances wherein the physicians use their professional status to induce a sexual relationship with a patient. Even more alarming is the fact that for personal reasons they delay referring the patient to the appropriate counselor. A typical example is the Gromis vs. Medical Board case of 1992. [Henry R. Fenton]
It is also not unusual for physicians to be stalked by their patients. One common motive for the patients stalking the doctors is seeking a sexual relationship. The closeness that the doctor / patient relationship entails during the consultation and treatment period sometimes evokes unreasonable feelings and actions from the patient. Under these circumstances "sympathy and attention is easily reconstructed as romantic interest" [Michele T. Pathe] leading to distressing situation for the physician who cannot entirely discontinue the treatment due to medical and legal considerations. ('medico legal abandonment considerations') Furthermore, in view of the prevailing situation where the doctors are having the bad image of being 'the exploiters' in a patient / doctor relationship, physicians find it hard to report such abuse and stalking behavior from patients out of fear of cynicism.
Consequences of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment, in whatever form it exists, is a forced exploitation and has serious consequences for the whole health care sector. It is a serious blow to the personal dignity of the offended and the clear breach of the professional and moral integrity on the part of the offender. From the point-of-view of the human resource department it is very important to understand the extent of damage that this malice of sexual harassment can cause. Its negative impact is not just limited to the affected person but ripple effect can be observed throughout the entire organizational setup. From the employees perspective it may involve serious psychological damage and loss of morale, reduced achievement and commitment to work and even ending up in quitting of the job. [Anita Hoffman] From the organizations standpoint, apart from the legal implications, which may ruin the professional goodwill and incur financial loses, the disinterested work by the staffers will result in serious repercussions. Increasing occurrence of these sexual harassment cases would also imply a loss of the good will of the hospital and would ultimately affect the reputation.
Implications for HR Department
Health care being one of the areas where there is a clear scarcity of professionals and technical staffers it would create a human resource crisis if there is an increasing incidence of job quitters due to the inhospitable work environment. It is in the interest of the hospital management to look into this growing problem and take corrective measures as and when required to set right the situation before it gets too worse. Given the grave implications the role of the human resource professional becomes all the more pronounced. It is very important to frame work ethics that do not encourage undue exploitation of professional superiority by the physicians. As Estabrooks, a senor registered nurse and co researcher of the Alberta study states, "In the past most of the work has been done at the individual level, but it might be more important to look at intervention on an organizational level," [Gilbert A. Bouchard].
Every hospital must have a clearly defined sexual harassment policy and every employee must be apprised of it. There should also be a clearly laid out 'complaint procedure' which would facilitate the employees to express their ordeal in a clear-cut fashion. It is essential that HR professionals make clear that immoral and unethical behavior from anybody would not be tolerated irrespective of their professional stature. It is also necessary to ensure that that the affected persons do not have to suffer the abuse in a silent manner. Since cases of sexual harassment are most prominent in the nurse / doctor category it would be an appropriate step to form a grievance board for the nurses to hear their complaints pertaining to physical and sexual harassments. In other words the work climate should be open and all staff should be adhering to strict code of ethics. In this context it is the responsibility of the HR division to emphasize the code of professional behavior. These impartial and strict regulations are necessary, as other wise sexual harassment in the hospital would definitely have a negative influence on the standard of medical care provided.
Providing healthcare is not only a crucial but also a noble profession. Hospital Management has an important role in preventing the menace of sexual harassment from creeping and eating into the vitals of the…[continue]
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At all times, a compliant organization will provide the following to all/each staff/employee: A non-hostile work environment An anonymous and secure system for staff to report sexual harassment/ethical concerns Quick and responsive, unbiased, comprehensive & objective investigation into all claims A safe and courteous atmosphere for our patient population and for our staff An environment void of preferential treatment or discrimination based on gender An environment void of preferential treatment Interim & annual training sessions conducted
Bibliography Childers-Hermann, J. (1993, February) Awareness of sexual harassment: First step toward prevention. Critical Care Nurse 13, p. 101-103. Childers-Hermann discusses that many healthcare employees do not know what constitutes sexual harassment, thus impeding the ability to prevent this problem. Cook, et al. (1996). Residents' experiences of abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment during residency training," Canadian Medical Association Journal,154:1657-1665). Research assesses the prevalence of psychological abuse, physical assault, and discrimination on the basis of
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