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A Piece of My Mind
November 20, 2018

Solving the Silence

Author Affiliations
  • 1Kellogg Eye Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • 2Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA. 2018;320(19):1979-1980. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.15686

Early in our training, we found ourselves talking in the call room late at night. As we reflected on challenging moments during our training, we realized that both of us had encountered inappropriate sexual comments from patients during medical school and internship. One story about such behavior led to another and another, and before long we suspected that our experiences were reflective of a larger trend.

One of us (O.J.K.) recalls these encounters: “We will be back to check on you this afternoon,” said the attending physician on morning rounds. The patient, an elderly man, gave a sneer. “Why don't you just leave the pretty girl here until you get back?” he asked. “I'm sure I could find plenty of things to do with her all day.” I was the medical student and the only woman in the room. Neither I, nor the resident, nor the attending physician acknowledged his words. Fast forward a few years. I was an intern, and I stepped into an exam room with a senior physician in an outpatient clinic. An older man was sitting on the exam table, and as soon as he saw me, he shot me a lascivious smile and told me that the senior physician “is a very lucky man because he always has gorgeous ladies following him around. You, my dear, are no exception.” I felt anger rise within me. I did not know how to respond. Despite having experienced this numerous times since I began my training, I still retained hope that this time, this attending physician would say something to discourage these inappropriate remarks and establish that I too am here as a physician, not as eye candy. Instead, the attending physician ignored the comment entirely and queried, “So how has the cough been since you were last here?”

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