Sexual harassment in healthcare: How radiologists can make a difference

Sexual harassment remains a significant problem in healthcare, especially for women. What can radiologists do to be better allies for individuals experiencing such harassment? A recent commentary published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology explored this very subject in detail.

“At a time when radiology is indispensable to the modern practice of medicine, it has never been more important to create an inclusive specialty that is diverse and representative to harness the full talent pool in advancing science and practice,” wrote authors Chithra R. Perumalswami, MD, MSc, and Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Being the victim of sexual harassment can impact a person’s long-term health, but it can also impact their careers and ability to practice radiology at all. These consequences “simply cannot be ignored,” the authors wrote, and radiologists should do everything in their power to combat harassment.

Radiologists communicate with almost every other subspecialty for a variety of reasons, Perumalswami and Jagsi explained, meaning they may find themselves in situations where they can intervene and stop sexual harassment in its tracks. And if radiologists ever witness harassment in person they “have the power to interrupt harassment and provide support to targets of sexual harassment.”

If a radiologist, for example, overhears a peer making derogatory remarks about a female coworker or boasting about an inappropriate sexual encounter, they can interrupt the harasser or tell the harasser to stop. And if the target of the harassment is in the room at the time or being harassed in a more direct way, the radiologist who overhears the discussion can remove the target from the room and encourage them to publicly report the situation.

“Bystanders have power to enact a range of different behavioral choices,” the authors wrote. “Although bystanders may fear retaliation as a consequence of becoming involved in a situation that involves harassment (especially if the bystander is in a position of subordination to the harasser such as a fellow medical student in the previous scenario), inaction may also be detrimental for the bystander, who may suffer from the effects of indirect harassment in isolation.”

Patients can also be the victims of sexual harassment, the authors noted, and radiologists should be trained so that they know how to respond if they witness such an incident taking place. Such training can help radiologists feel more comfortable speaking up instead of quietly watching an incident unfold.

Finally, Perumalswami and Jagsi concluded, imaging leaders can make an impact by being clear, from the beginning, that harassment is not acceptable.

“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 authors 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.”