ER nurse: Sexual harassment from patients is 'par for the course'

For many women in healthcare, sexual harassment is a workplace reality that can come from peers, superiors and patients, NBC News reports.

"It just comes par for the course, unfortunately," said Meghann Justice, RN, a travel nurse who has worked in emergency rooms across the country for the last six years

Ms. Justice and her colleagues aim to shed light on what women who work in the medical profession encounter on a regular basis as the #MeToo movement spreads.

Female residents, nurses and surgeons told NBC News about misconduct and inappropriate comments they received from their colleagues, including propositions in hospital call rooms and questions about their bra sizes from male co-workers.

A number of women also said sexual harassment from patients is common in the workplace. The majority — 71 percent — of nurses said they had been harassed by a patient, according to a recent Medscape poll.

"I think sexual harassment in general is probably one of the most persistent problems in the workplace, but in terms of nursing, the lines are blurred because we see patients in their most vulnerable state, some that require patients to get naked, and unfortunately, people take certain liberties that they wouldn't have had they been fully clothed," said Seun Ross, DNP, MSN, director of nursing practice and work environment at the American Nurses Association.

For healthcare providers, who have an ethical obligation to treat patients, addressing harassment from a patient can be difficult. For example, patients' behavior may be affected by their age, mental state or medication they are taking, causing them to act in ways they might not normally act.

"I think once we understand what the true definition of sexual harassment is, which is any advances that are unwelcome or unsolicited that are sexual, and we stop excusing it, then the change will happen," Dr. Ross said. "We want to drive accountability so we're able to enforce consequences, and once we do that, you'll see more and more nurses speak out."

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