Physicians Can and Must Do Better

FMWC Statement on Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence in Medicine

Over the last year, the #MeToo movement has exploded into #MeTooMedicine and #ScienceToo. It has exposed the prevalence of gender harassment and sexual violence in Canadian medicine. From medical students to residents to clinicians in practice, stories of gender harassment, and sexual coercion and violence have emerged that paint a problematic picture of the practice of medicine in 2018.

The Federation of Medical Women of Canada supports the efforts of Canadian women physicians in the telling of their #MeTooMedicine stories. These women are to be commended for their bravery in speaking out and we salute them for their courage.

Women have fought hard for entry into the medical profession. They have earned their place through intelligence, hard work and dedication to the field. Attempts to harass or sexually coerce or assault women students and clinicians are contrary to the professional ideals and ethos of medicine: Do no harm.

The loss to health care of the talented, intelligent, committed and passionate women physicians who disengage or drop out of the profession as a result of gender harassment, sexual coercion and violence is an incomparable loss to our society and a detriment the public’s health.

Sharing stories is the first step in raising awareness of the problem: the abuse of power with impunity. Although women are overwhelmingly targeted, marginalized or otherwise less powerful men can also suffer. These stories assure targeted individuals that they are not alone and it is not their fault. The fault lies with perpetrators who abuse power and the systems that allow them to offend with impunity.

The FMWC supports the following principles in addressing gender harassment, sexual coercion and violence:

  1. Gender harassment, sexual coercion and violence are an abuse of power and will not be tolerated.
  2. #MeToo, #MeTooMedicine and #ScienceToo can look differently for women, men, non-binary, and racialized individuals.
  3. Safe processes in reporting, ongoing support and follow-up are needed to ensure the safety and well-being of targeted individuals.
  4. Increased and visible efforts by health professional organizations, academic and healthcare institutions to uphold professional standards of behaviour among their members.

The time is now for leadership in our profession at every level from our professional bodies to our educational systems to be part of creating a culture of safety and exemplary professionalism.  We look forward to working with other medical leaders on a national action plan [or something? Consensus report?]

The Federation of Medical Women of Canada in our 95th year will continue to shine the light on gender harassment and sexual violence. Physicians can and must do better.

Dr. Beverly Johnson
National President
Federation of Medical Women of Canada