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Could medicine be the next industry to come under scrutiny in the #MeToo era?

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The recent #MeToo movement uncovered sexual harassment and abuse against women in some of the biggest industries in the world. Women and men in Hollywood, in politics, in the media, in sports, and elsewhere, exposed the extent to which gender bias and harassment seep into a variety of industries.

One career field is missing from the movement, says Northeastern professor Timothy Hoff: medicine. 

Timothy Hoff, professor of management, healthcare systems and health policy. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Through their own research and a review of existing studies, Hoff and his colleagues have found that women who are physicians are more likely than their male colleagues to experience depression and burnout and more likely to experience harassment at work. They also earn significantly less than their male counterparts ($20,000 less, on average) for doing the same work, and they’re less likely to be promoted.

“This is a group of people we haven’t examined all that much in the #MeToo era,” says Hoff, a professor of management, healthcare systems and public policy at Northeastern. “With everything we’re finding out about what women are facing in the workplace, I think it’s time we look at these professionals who are at the top of the occupational food chain, so to speak. They’re experiencing some of the same things.”

Hoff recently wrote an op-ed for the medical news organization Medical Economics on the topic, based on his past research and that of others. He’s currently studying the evolution of the careers of physicians—research that could help change a profession that is “still thought to be very male-dominated,” he says.

As part of his new research, Hoff will examine a puzzling finding from his past research: Despite the challenges women face in their medical careers, they report being relatively happy with their jobs, he says. 

Women who are physicians “are experiencing high levels of job satisfaction at the same time that they’re experiencing high levels of gender bias, mistreatment, and harassment,” Hoff says. “Why is that?”

He suspects that part of the answer might have to do with the ways that some women who are physicians “have learned to cope with, and compartmentalize” these negative aspects of their job experience, Hoff says. 

Part of Hoff’s current research involves interviewing women who are physicians, and Hoff says he sees support for such compartmentalization in those interviews. 

“These are highly skilled, highly trained, and extremely busy professionals who, because of the need to effectively do the difficult work of patient care each and every day, are finding ways to block out or otherwise deal psychologically with these adverse workplace realities,” Hoff says. 

For media inquiries, please contact Shannon Nargi at s.nargi@northeastern.edu or 617-373-5718.

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