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Addressing Harassment

The National Academy of Medicine's Victor Dzau and Wellesley College's Paula Johnson call on leaders in academic medicine to work toward ending sexual harassment in the field in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Over the summer, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee, co-chaired by Johnson, reported that efforts to end sexual harassment in the sciences have been largely ineffective. A number of factors contribute to harassment, it noted, such as a male-dominated work environment, a perceived tolerance of harassment, and a power structure that limits reporting. The report found that more than 40 percent of female medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff.

Dzau and Johnson argue that change has to come from above. "Culture change begins with leadership," they write. "We are calling on our fellow leaders in academic medicine to commit to a system wide change in culture and climate aimed at stopping sexual harassment before it occurs." 

In a separate commentary in NEJM, Oregon Health and Science University's Esther Choo, the OB Hospitalist Group in Burbank's Jane van Dis, and Dara Kass from Columbia University Medical Center write that institutions must not waiting until there are formal complaints to discuss harassment. They advocate that discussions of gender-based harassment should become routine and system-focused.

"We have an opportunity to rise to the challenge," Choo says in a statement. "I think healthcare institutions will begin to recognize that providing safe and productive workplaces sets us up to provide the high-quality care our patients expect."

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