Bullying and Sexual Harassment of Junior Doctors – More #MeToo

26 Feb 2018

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

Young female doctor looks pensive

A survey of Interns and Resident Medical Officers in 2015 and 2016 revealed that 56% had been bullied and 16-19% reported sexual harassment at work. A greater proportion of females (62%) than males (51%) reported having been bullied and a significantly greater proportion of females (29%) than males (5%) reported sexual harassment.

Most junior doctors reported occasional incidents of bullying and sexual harassment, occurring less than monthly, with the perpetrator most frequently being a senior medical staff member (59%) or non-medical staff member e.g. nursing (33%).

Approximately 40% of the junior doctors did not take any action in response to the bullying and sexual harassment. The reasons for taking no action included:

  • workplace normalisation of these behaviours
  • fear of reprisal
  • lack of knowledge or confidence in the reporting process.

Escalation to a senior medical staff member was the most common response for those doctors who did take action. In most cases, the junior doctors reported ineffective or personally harmful outcomes when reporting to senior colleagues, such as being dismissed or blamed for the conduct.

The authors of the study concluded that primarily focusing on interventions with junior doctors, such as resilience training, is unlikely to solve the problem of bullying and sexual harassment in hospitals. The authors suggest different and multipronged approaches should be tried and studied, such as raising awareness in senior colleagues and training bystanders to intervene.

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Dr Nick Coatsworth is an expert in health policy, public administration and a practising infectious diseases physician. He held a national role in the Australian response to COVID-19 as Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia, becoming one of the most recognised medical spokespeople during the pandemic. Nick engaged the Australian community through a variety of media platforms most notably as the spearhead of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Dr Micheal Gannon, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, sits down with Dr Nick Coatsworth to discuss Nick's medical career journey, and what insights and advice he has for junior doctors. MDA National would like to acknowledge the contributions of MDA National staff, Members, friends and colleagues in the production of the podcast and note that this work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under applicable copyright law, you may not reproduce the content of this podcast without the permission of MDA National. This podcast contains generic information only, is intended to stimulate thought and discussion, and doesn’t account for requirements of any particular individual. The content may contain opinions which are not necessarily those of MDA National. We recommend that you always contact your indemnity provider when you require specific advice in relation to your insurance policy or medico-legal matters. MDA National Members need to contact us for specific medico-legal advice on freecall 1800 011 255 or email We may also refer you to other professional services.


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