Sexual Harassment Among Medical Students: Prevalence, Prediction, and Correlated Outcomes
Background: Few studies are dedicated to understanding the extent and impact of sexual harassment among medical students. The aim of this study was to use behaviorally specific measures to examine prevalence of sexual harassment toward medical students. Associated mental health and academic impacts were also studied. Methods: A multisite survey was conducted at four medical schools. Sexual harassment was measured using the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ), a valid and reliable instrument. Students were also surveyed about depressive and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and their level of academic engagement. We also assessed their perceptions of institutional response and whether they felt safe at their institution. Findings: The final sample included 524 medical students (response rate = 13%). Findings revealed that 36.6% reported sexual harassment by a faculty/ staff member and 38.5% reported harassment by a fellow student. The odds of harassment by faculty/staff, as well as peers, were significantly higher for women with an adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 9.83, 95% confidence interval (CI) = [3.74, 25.80] and multiracial students with an AOR: 2.93, 95% CI: [1.16, 7.39]. Those who experienced sexual harassment were more likely to report academic disengagement and symptoms of depression and PTSD. Conclusion/Application to Practice: Sexual harassment in medical schools can potentially limit a student’s academic success and negatively impact their mental health. Supportive services and efforts to address peer and professional cultures that promote harassment are needed. Experiences of harassment require swift and competent responses by medical school leadership in collaboration with occupational and/or student health services to mitigate detrimental impacts and support medical students throughout their training.