Study Finds Women Healthcare Workers Bullied More Than Male Counterparts

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Compared to their male counterparts, women healthcare providers experience far more verbal abuse, bullying, and sexual harassment. However, according to the findings of a new PLOS Global Health study, male healthcare providers are more likely to be subjected to physical violence than women.

“Gendered power relations within organizational and professional hierarchies played a critical role in enabling workplace violence between and within professional groups. Female nurses and physicians were 11 times more likely to experience verbal abuse and nine times more likely to experience any form of violence than males,” the authors wrote in the study. “Nurses have double the risk of experiencing verbal abuse compared to physicians. The prevalence of gender-based discrimination was also higher for women within the medical profession in most high-income countries, including Australia, the USA, and Canada, as well as Saudi Arabia and India.”

“These hierarchical gendered relations between men and women reflect those in society at large, and in most cultures and geographic locations, men hold most positions of authority. Preventative measures must be enacted, including robust policies against retaliation and comprehensive training for supervisors on appropriate behavior,” they added. “Reforms must consider and confront broader societal gender-based roles of men and women, often reinforcing power imbalances. Recognizing and challenging societal norms is essential to creating sustainable safeguards within healthcare settings, ensuring a more equitable distribution of power and opportunities for men and women.”

The researchers analyzed 226 studies that were conducted in more than 27 countries. Most of the studies took place in the United States (63), followed by China (20), and Turkey (9).

“In a large academic medical center in the USA, white female physicians experienced fewer mistreatment episodes than black physicians and those of other races. Further, in radiology, women graduates from foreign medical schools were more likely to report sexual harassment compared to the US graduates (77.1% vs. 54.1%),” the authors observed.

Of the 226 studies included in the analysis, 19% reported a higher prevalence of all forms of violence against women and male healthcare providers. In India, physical violence was substantially higher for men (16%) than women (4%). But 58% of women healthcare providers said they were threatened as compared to only 47% of men.

Similar trends related to the prevalence of physical violence were observed in Australia, the U.S., China, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Austria, and Pakistan.

The study further revealed that most incidents of workplace violence occurred in the emergency department (ED) and psychiatric settings.

“Historically, men have dominated decision-making, leadership roles, and participation in healthcare organizations as a direct result of patriarchal social structures,” the authors explained.

“Male professional domination could explain the higher prevalence of workplace violence among women in our review in various contexts. In that, men dominated healthcare organizations, specifically medicine, and they also held more institutional power than nurses. Grant et al. explained that women’s voices often face suppression within these arenas, influenced by the attitudes prevailing among those in positions of power and the prevalent culture of blaming victims,” the authors added.

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