Harassment in medical schools

Students shouldn’t be subjected to abuse in the quest for a M.D.

Editorial board

For today’s medical students, long hours, heavy workloads and sleep deprivation are considered worthwhile sacrifices to achieve a medical degree. They expect demanding teachers and challenging courses, but a recent study highlights a larger issue: the prevalence of harassment in medical school.

According to a study conducted over 13 years by the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, “more than half of all [UCLA] medical students said they had been intimidated or physically or verbally harassed.” 

Surveys of third-year medical students began at the David Geffen School of Medicine in 1995 after much research about the shocking pervasiveness of workplace harassment for medical students was published. Results of the surveys, conducted annually since then, show a variety of harassment issues including threats of ruined medical careers.

This type of harassment is nothing short of bullying. While the intense rigor of medical school is generally accepted by the public — and by some students — as the boot camp that prepares for exacting work under pressure, future doctors shouldn’t have to choose between mental and emotional health and a “successful” career. Abuse of this nature calls into question the character of those who should be the most compassionate of professionals and creates the opportunity for a vicious cycle of further damage and victimization.

Primum non nocere: “First, do no harm.” By allowing this maltreatment, senior physicians and professors not only violate their own code of ethics, they are jeopardizing the well-being of those who would follow in their footsteps.