My Married Boss Offered to Pay Off My Med School Loans — if I Slept With Him
Erica*, 34, a trauma surgeon, anonymously shares her experience of sexual harassment at work with Time's Up Healthcare founding member Dr. Jessi Gold.
I am a trauma surgeon and have only been out of training for about five years. At the start of my first year of surgical training after medical school, they had our whole residency class come, tour the hospital, and see where we would be doing our rotations. While exploring, I met this one attending. He seemed to almost gravitate toward me.
Coincidentally, my very first rotation of surgical training was with him. But there were 30 residents in the group and, again, he seemed to focus on me more. I perceived it as him wanting to help my career. He would say things like, “Oh if you want to do that fellowship, you should do this training." Or, he would tell me what material to focus on for an exam. It was all really professional. It was like he was simply tutoring me more than anyone else in the group, and I appreciated the help.
About two weeks into the rotation, he asked me to meet with him over dinner and talk about my academic goals. Because that sounded like a normal thing, that a nice person might say while getting to know a colleague, I agreed. I even told friends we were going to have dinner, and didn't keep it a secret from any of our colleagues or my co-residents. Again, In my head, it was all simply professional.
Thinking back on it now, of course I see that I was being naive to his predation.
When the dinner "date" came around, he picked me up in his car. He seemed weird; he was being stand-off-ish, driving quietly almost 40 minutes away from where we lived. Along the way he pointed out apartments he owned, which seemed like he was trying to show off his wealth and seniority.
When we finally got to the restaurant, whatever I had missed in the earlier signals became abundantly clear. The conversation skipped right over what I thought we had come to discuss (academics, my career), to him saying something like: “So, you know what this was all about, right?”
I said no, I didn't. He replied, “I am very interested in you. If you would be my girlfriend—" This might be a good time to mention that he was married, so he was saying "girlfriend" and meaning "mistress." But anyway, "If you would be my girlfriend, I can help you out, too. I can pay for your loans," he said.
Even though med school cost a pretty penny, and I'll probably be paying it off for most of my life, this sounded insane. Especially when he tried to justify it by telling me I could just tell my parents I had won the lottery if they wondered why my bills suddenly disappeared. I couldn't comprehend that he was actually serious — he was trying to broker a deal: a considerable amount of money for what I'm sure he was expecting to be a sexual relationship.
I felt like I was shrinking into myself and began to wonder how to get out of the situation. Not only were we 40 minutes away from home, with only his car, I still had to work with him. He could have some major sway over my future job prospects, too.
I replied, “Oh, that is not what I was thinking." He was incredulous: "You didn't know I was interested?”
I said, “No. I didn’t. I didn't think this was like that." At the same time, I was going over in my head my body language with him, and whether my outgoing and friendly personality could have been taken as flirtation. He said to think about it.
The rest of the dinner was awkward and I just tried to get through it with minimal talking. In his car on the way home, I sat on the edge of my seat, as close to the door as possible.
The next morning, as if nothing happened, we were back at work together for another six weeks. He remained his normal and professional self at work, but he would call me on my phone at night. He would leave messages saying, “I don’t like that you're ignoring me.” Or, “I thought we had something.” Like it or not, I continued ignoring him, until somehow he finally got the message. We managed to get by at work without even a little small talk.
I heard later from nurses that he had done it before. And according to gossip, at least one person had taken him up on the money. That didn't really surprise me. What did was it had become more of an inside joke in the hospital rather than being handled like the actual problem it was. The nurses and other staff would laugh and say, “Oh I think he likes you, he always picks someone," rather than warning me to stay away.
Perhaps that was because everyone liked him, too. He was so well respected and important to the program that I felt like if I told anyone what happened, they'd find a way for me to be in the wrong. I only told two male co-residents, who both urged me not to say anything because they thought he was the best teacher in the program and they didn't want him getting in trouble.
Looking back now, I wish I had told someone more senior. But I saw how the system allowed him to get away with abuse at work. I hadn't seen any evidence to suggest there were processes in place that could've stopped him, or protected the women he "liked."
This essay is a part of our exclusive coverage of Time's Up Healthcare, which launches March 1. Read more, here.