Infectious Disease

Nearly one in 4 medical doctors studies private assaults on social media, a small survey reveals

January 04, 2021

1 min read

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Disclosure:
Pendergrast does not report any relevant financial information. In the study you will find all relevant financial information from all other authors.

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Almost a quarter of doctors said they had been personally attacked on social media, and one in six said they had been sexually harassed. This was the result of a small poll.

Tricia R. Pendergrast, BA, A medical student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and colleagues said their study was the first they were aware of doctors’ investigated experiences with online harassment.

Reference: Pendergrast TR, et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2021; doi: 10.1001 / jamainternmed.2020.7235.

Each of the six researchers tweeted a survey that collected demographic information and asked the following questions: “Have you ever been personally attacked or assaulted on social media?” And “Have you ever been sexually harassed on social media?” There was also a text field where respondents could, if he or she so wished, provide a description of any incidents related to the survey. The researchers tagged 10 doctors on Twitter and asked them to share the surveys.

Pendergrast and colleagues reported in JAMA Internal Medicine that 464 people who identified themselves as U.S. doctors participated in the survey. Of these, 42.2% were men and 57.8% women or non-binary; 76.9% were white, 15.7% were Asian, and 2.6% were black. The average age of all respondents was 39 years.

Of all respondents, 23.3% said they had been personally attacked on social media without a significant difference between female and male doctors (24.2% versus 21.9%). In contrast, women were significantly more likely than men (16.4% versus 1.5%, P <0.001) to report sexual harassment on the Internet. The latter results are in line with earlier data, which the researchers say show a higher number of female doctors reporting sexual harassment offline.

Some of the most common open-ended responses that 46 doctors gave included topics related to advocacy (e.g. vaccines, guns, abortions, and smoking), work (e.g. patient care), and personal information (e.g. race and religion ) were compatible. According to the researchers, “two doctors described the threat of attack, including a black woman who said she had been threatened with rape by white supremacists for advocating civil rights.”

Recalling the “essential role” social media plays in healthcare, education and research, Pendergrast and colleagues encouraged employers and professional associations to “support and work on doctors exposed to online harassment to reduce their frequency and impact ”. The researchers also said future studies should further investigate online attacks and harassment by doctors, particularly Hispanic / Latin American and black doctors, “who were underrepresented in our study”.

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