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Sexual equality, discrimination and harassment in medicine: it’s time to act

More enlightened teaching would go a long way towards solving these problems

Among entrants to Australian medical schools, women slightly outnumber men. Of a total of 14 384 domestic medical students enrolled in medicine in 2014, (51.3%) were women.1 By the time these women complete their training, significant gender imbalances will emerge in their fields of practice, with palliative medicine and sexual health being the only specialties with more women than men.

Redressing sexual inequalities in medicine will require more than increasing the numbers of women in male-dominated specialties; the changing roles of the sexes in society, learning styles, hospital-based training and the professional identities of women in a largely masculine medical hierarchy are all deeply relevant.

A 2015 United States study of women’s perceptions of discrimination during surgical training and practice found that most observed or experienced gender-based discrimination during medical school (87%), residency (88%) and practice (91%).2 These results suggest that bullying and discrimination are rife, and complaint mechanisms inadequate. Studies of women in North America show they experience greater levels of abuse than men, and that the high prevalence of harassment and discrimination has not diminished over time.3