Depiction of Sexual Harassment in Medical Television Shows

Cureus. 2020 Dec 2;12(12):e11842. doi: 10.7759/cureus.11842.


Background and objective Medical television (TV) shows are known to exaggerate medical scenarios, including relationships among/between medical staff and patients. Unfortunately, sexual harassment occurs within the medical and nursing profession. The objective of this study was to analyze the depiction of sexual harassment in eight popular medical TV shows. Methods The first 10 episodes of the first season of eight popular medical TV shows (St. Elsewhere, ER, Scrubs, Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy, Nurse Jackie, The Good Doctor, and The Resident) were viewed and coded by two reviewers. The data abstracted included demographics of those involved in the sexual harassment and examples of sexual harassment depicted. Results The analysis was based on 62 instances of sexual harassment. The victim of sexual harassment was female in 77% (49/62) of instances. The most common relationships depicted pertaining to the acts of sexual harassment were attending physicians toward attending physicians (12/62, 19.3%), interns toward interns (8/62, 12.9%), attending physicians towards interns (7/62, 11.2%), and patients toward attending physicians (5/62, 8.1%). The most common examples of sexual harassment portrayed were telling sexual anecdotes/jokes (23/62, 37.1%), inappropriate touching (12/62, 19.4%), and making sexual comments about appearance, such as body parts or clothes (12/62, 19.4%). Conclusion Based on our analysis of medical TV shows, instances of sexual harassment occurred most commonly between attending physicians, and most of them were associated with sexual anecdotes/jokes. Medical and nursing professionals may draw on relevant instances from medical TV shows to discuss how to recognize and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace in order to promote a safe and nurturing environment devoid of harassment.

Keywords: media; medical education; medical student; resident education; sexual harassment; sexual misconduct; television.