America has witnessed a cry for accountability for sexual misconduct as the #MeToo Movement has pushed offenders and their employers to accept responsibility for unwanted sexual harassment and assaults against women. While many industries have embraced the #MeToo Movement and taken strong disciplinary actions against sexual misconduct offenders, the medical profession has been slower to respond.
Types of Sexual Assault Allegations
Some of the most common sexual assault allegations frequently made against doctors include exposing genitals to patients, drugging patients for sex, vividly describing sexual dreams, making sexual comments about a patient’s body, and sexual assault against both patients and staff members. When a physician is accused of sexual misconduct, charges are filed with the State Medical Board. The Board can take disciplinary actions against the physician, including revoking their medical license.
Not Enough Action Being Done
Critics of the physician disciplinary system believe that state medical boards continue to be too lenient with punishments imposed on physicians who violate the trust of their patients or medical staff. For many victims of physician sexual misconduct, the cards seem stacked against them. Hospitals appear to be reluctant to report physician abuse. Victims also report an institutional bias present on medical review boards where physicians are hesitant to revoke another physician’s license.
The AP study showed that physicians are disciplined less for their sexual misconduct than individuals in other professions. Rather than losing their medical licenses, many physicians can keep their medical practices open if a chaperone is present during patient examinations. Many medical boards will impose only short suspensions on physicians who have admitted sexual misconduct if the physician obtains mandatory therapy.
By focusing on the mandatory therapy, state medical boards appear to be treating sexual misconduct as a symptom of mental illness or addiction. Other physicians can avoid appearing in front of state medical review boards. Physicians who were sanctioned by their employers or paid a settlement because of sexual misconduct allegations never received discipline from their state’s medical review board.
Push for Change
Health services researchers at the patient advocacy organization, Public Citizen, continue to push for changes. Some of their suggestions include the adoption of a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual misconduct, imposing real consequences for this type of behavior, including the permanent revocation of medical licenses and rewriting the current guidelines issued by the Federation of State Physician Health Programs, which currently handle sexual misconduct as a doctor impairment subject to non-disciplinary treatment.
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