The Extent and Effects of Abuse and Harassment of Emergency Medicine Residents


Department of Emergency Medicine Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital 3300 Henry Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19129


Objective: To determine the extent and effects of abuse and harassment, including sexual harassment and racial or ethnic discrimination, experienced by residents in emergency medicine (EM).

Method: The study instrument was an anonymous, self-report survey administered to a national sample of EM residents. The survey was timed to coordinate with the American Board of Emergency Medicine's annual In-Service Examination in February 1993. The residents reported whether they had experienced nine types of abuse or harassment during their residency training, the sources of these incidents, the effects on the residents, and whether they chose to file a formal complaint regarding these events.

Results: Surveys were returned by 1,774 (80%) of the 2,229 residents who sat for the examination—74.4% men and 24.6% women. Overall, 98% reported at least one occurrence of abuse or harassment, with patients being the most frequent source. More than half of the more senior residents reported having been physically hit or pushed. Other health care professionals were a frequent source of verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Women were significantly more likely than men to report unwanted sexual advances (63% vs 32%, p < 0.001), discomfort from sexual humor (66% vs 27%, p < 0.001), and unfair treatment because of gender (71% vs 15%, p < 0.001). Non-Caucasians reported a higher rate of racial or ethnic discrimination than did Caucasians (51% vs 23%, p < 0.001). As a result of these episodes, 19% of the respondents had questioned their decision to become a physician, 20% had questioned entering the specialty of EM, 11% had experienced emotional effects lasting over one month, and 11% had experienced disruption of their family lives. Only 56 (3.2%) had filed formal complaints.

Conclusions: Residents frequently encounter abuse or harassment, particularly from patients. They also report adverse consequences from these episodes.