Despite the many strides gained by the LGBTQ+ community, it still faces daily discrimination and harassment, including in the work environment. Within the medical profession, LGBTQ+ surgical residents frequently confront bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination. According to an October 2021 JAMA Surgery study, this disrespectful treatment has prompted more LGBTQ+ surgical residents to ponder leaving residency programs, when compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

Yue-Yung Hu, MD, MPH, a pediatric surgeon at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was among those who researched resident experiences at Northwestern Medicine’s Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center. Dr. Hu and her colleagues found that LGBTQ+ residents were more than twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ+ peers to consider leaving residency programs. Comparatively, they more frequently experienced suicidal thoughts.

Burnout Linked With Mistreatment

Whereas 42.3% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents report frequent discrimination, 59.2% of LGBTQ+ respondents report frequent discrimination. Nearly 8% more of the latter experience bullying. Regarding sexual harassment, 47.5% of LGBTQ+ residents report being victimized, compared to 29.3% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers. The study team observed that attending physicians are largely the sources of mistreatment, which plays a critical role in residents’ well-being. Being part of a minority community increases the risk of mistreatment, she adds.

Increased risk of burnout is also associated with increased frequency of mistreatment. According to an October 2021 JAMA Network Open study, the predicted probability of burnout is eight times higher for lesbian, gay, or bisexual medical students than for their heterosexual peers. Burnout due to mistreatment plays a role in LGBTQ+ surgical residents’ decisions to leave residency programs before completion.

Dr. Hu’s work is one of the largest studies researching mistreatment of LGBTQ+ members of the medical education community. In an invited commentary on her study, Minnesota-based trauma and ICU surgeon Michaela West, MD, PhD, points out one of the main barriers to mending this situation. The medical community, she says, must first acknowledge that there is, indeed, a problem.

Researchers agree that there is a great need for the development of safer and more inclusive medical education environments. Multifaceted interventions can assist in educating all members of the medical community, helping to increase the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community.