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Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Clinic

February 1, 2018

A patient says something flirtatious to a physician during a clinical encounter that makes the doctor uncomfortable. It may be inappropriate, but is it sexual harassment? 

SIU faculty and staff debated this scenario and others that dealt with the hot-button topic during a panel on Jan. 30 in the South Auditorium. The new SIU Medicine Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science (AWIMS) and Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted the informative gathering. Panelists included:

Sacharitha Bowers, MD, Department of Internal Medicine

John Flack, MD, Internal Medicine

David Steward, MD, Internal Medicine

Karen Broquet, MD, Internal Medicine

Shakthi Kandaswamy, MD, R3 Internal Medicine Residency Program

Christine Jarmer, RN, Internal Medicine 

Angie Doolin, Human Resources

Brenda Pryor, General Counsel and Legal Affairs

The practitioners brought real-world experience to their answers, and spoke to the difficulty in gauging a standard response to the different situations presented by Dr. Vidhya Prakash, Department of Internal Medicine and director of AWIMS.

“It’s tough because of all the factors that happen in the moment,” said Dr. Bowers. Reactions can vary depending on the age and experience levels of the practitioners. 

Though trained to “take care of the patient first,” ignoring the action or laughing it off could perpetuate the behavior. Letting the patient know that his or her actions were inappropriate can begin an educational process that leads to change, said Dr. Kandaswamy.

As a rule, if it bothers the recipient it should be discussed with a supervisor or the attending physician. Listening and showing support is a useful first step.

Human Resources Assistant Director Angie Doolin and Brenda Pryor, General Counsel and Legal Affairs, concluded the event by emphasizing the importance of a safe work environment. Doolin explained the reporting options available to employees when these incidents occur. “Say something. It will be addressed.”