Background: Sexual harassment within the doctor-patient relationship is typically discussed in terms of male doctors harassing female patients. We investigated the sexual harassment of female doctors by patients.
Methods: Surveys were mailed to a random sample of 599 of the 1064 licensed female family physicians in Ontario, Canada. Respondents were asked about their experiences of sexual harassment by either male or female patients and about the nature and frequency of harassing behavior. Suggestions for prevention were requested.
Results: Seventy percent (422) of the questionnaires were completed and returned. More than 75 percent of the respondents reported some sexual harassment by patient at some time during their careers. Physicians had been harassed most often in their own offices and by their own patients. However, in settings such as emergency rooms and clinics, unknown patients presented a proportionately higher risk. The physicians' perceptions of the seriousness of the problem varied with the frequency and severity of the incidents.
Conclusions: Sexual harassment of female doctors appears to occur frequently, and it is therefore an important topic to address in medical school and professional development.