As a Female Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon, Mother of Twins, and former Commander in the United States Navy, I have experienced sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault and it is time it stopped. I am running the New York City Marathon and raising money for Time's Up Healthcare to bring awareness about why gender discrimination and harassment in healthcare is dangerous and to be apart of the solution.
TIME’S UP is an organization that insists on safe, fair and dignified work for women of all kinds. We are working to create solutions that cross culture, companies and laws to increase women’s safety, equity and power at work.
This year, they've formed the first-ever NYC TIME'S UP Marathon Team and I will be running on Sunday, November 3rd!
Please take a few minutes to read the information I've provided below about Time's Up and specifically Time's Up Healthcare. Those that know me have probably heard some of my personal stories, if you haven't or don't know me personally, I will share them at the end of the information provided here.
In February 2019, Time's Up Healthcare launched. From experiencing assault in dark corridors of the ER, to feeling like “the operating room is the locker room,” women in medicine are speaking out as part of Time’s Up — and demanding safe, equitable workplaces, now.
While women make up over 80% of the healthcare workforce, the decision makers, including hospital leadership, executives and association presidents, are largely men. We continue to work in environments highly tolerant of sexual harassment. We had been gathering in women's groups and social media platforms and saying to each other, “It's time for change!”
In healthcare, we know that lives are saved by working together and improving collective intelligence through teams that are not only diverse, but are respectful, inclusive, and equitable.
“I knew when I became a physician that I was entering a boys club of a certain kind, in the sense that all the levers of power for the most part were controlled by men,” says Jane van Dis, MD, Ob/Gyn, Ob Hospitalist, and one of the steering committee members of Time’s Up Healthcare. As a woman in her early career, she says she felt lucky to have been let in. “You want to adapt to the culture and climate, and you want to succeed. That means you’re going to ignore the pat on the butt, the hand on the leg, and the comments — so many comments — about one's breasts and sex life, one’s fertility plans, and loss of virginity. It’s like the locker room, but it’s the halls of medicine.” Operating rooms, she says, are the most scatological places of all.
A recent commentary in the Annals of Surgery and a study just presented at this year's Academic Surgical Congress focused on the B.S. that's been going on in the surgical profession. In this case, the B.S. is bullying and sexual harassment. It's also B.S. that may affect you.
Why? Think about the characteristics that you want in a surgeon, the person in whose hands you are entrusting your health and potentially life. Capable, considerate, and conscientious come to mind. You also probably want someone who is bright, kind, caring, and morally upright. How about a person who bullies and harasses others? Probably not.
Beyond the physical and psychological toll of harassment on victims, the prevalence [of sexual harassment in the study] is concerning in light of patient safety. Victims of harassment naturally limit their interactions with persons who harass them. When this inhibits communication on patient care, patient safety is compromised. Sexual harassment in the operating room is distracting and unsafe. Harassment outside of the operating room can limit surgeon’s faculty for clinical decision-making. Optimal patient care requires surgeons feel safe and free of harassment in their work environment.
Do you really want someone perpetrating such antics while you are asleep on the operating table? Is someone who harasses others really going to do what's best for you? Can you really trust a surgeon who will treat other surgeons unfairly and badly? These are all very important quality of health care questions.
The other problem is that harassment may discourage women and others from becoming surgeons, meaning that you won't really have the best of the best taking care of you. Dr. Logghe started the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag to emphasize what should be patently obvious: that the image of a surgeon shouldn't just be that of a White man. Top surgeons can be of any gender, any race, any ethnicity.
Surgery is particularly susceptible to bullying for several reasons. First, we value hierarchy immensely; other specialties are afraid of us and we are afraid of our leaders. Second, we practice an unspoken code of silence; often loathe to speak up against a colleague for fear of retaliation. Third, we work in high stakes and stressful environments. Whether we are in the operating room, trauma bay, or even at morbidity and mortality conference, people bully while hiding behind the veil of patient care. Lastly, trainees and junior faculty observe and emulate bullying behavior, especially if the bully is perceived as influential and successful.
For those brave enough to report bullying behavior to departmental or medical school leadership, several obstacles impair the eradication of surgical workplace bullying. First, the bully is often an established, recognized figure in their specialty who has amassed significant power and who may bring significant clinical income to the institution. Next, there are no state or federal statutes against bullying at the workplace and few institutions have direct policies against bullying, although most have concrete antiharassment and antidiscrimination mandates for protected classes. Lastly, as 1 key component of effective bullying involves strategic isolation of the victim, the victim is often powerless to seek institutional resolution.
So I said I would share some of my stories. Yes I have and continue to experience sexual harrassment as an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon. Unfortunately, I can't share them all.
I experienced harrassment as a Dental School Student, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Resident, as an Officer in the United States Navy, and recently in private practice. In Dental School I had an Oral Surgery resident come behind me, put his arms around me, while I was performing surgery, to "show me" what I needed to do. During a residency interview, one of the residents told me that if I spent the night with him, he would get me into the program. I had physician assistants argue over who would "tie me up" as I scrubbed into surgery cases. The call room was full of pornography, and I was often invited to see the images passed around on phones and on computers. Medical Sales Reps would routinely include a night at a strip club after an expensive dinner. These are just a few of the incidents but oh the comments....too many to share.
It continued even when I was a Board Certified Oral Surgeon and especially in the Navy when my twins were young. I was told to "leave a bowl of water and food out for them and get to work." I had a senior Officer and fellow Oral Surgeon tell others that he didn't want to discuss a mutual patient because "she's a woman and will get too emotional." When I spoke out against the sexual discrimination and reported the sexual harassment (unwelcome verbal comments that are sexual in nature), I was labeled "a trouble maker" and unable to take a joke.
Why am I speaking out, because I've had enough, and I have a 10 year old daughter that I DO NOT want to go through what I went through.
Please help me by raising money for this important organization. Where does the money go? The legal defense fund, that helps with legal costs. Survior Support such as BetterBrave, EVAWI, EEOC, ERA, Futures without Violence, Me Too Movement, National Domestic Violence Hotline, RAINN, RISE, and WIF.
Times Up Healthcare is working to unite healthcare workers across fields, Improve care of targets of harassment and inequity, raise awareness and knowledge, support healthcare organizations in making this issue central and visible, funding for the legal defense fun, advocate for meaningful standards, and advance research on harassment and inequity.