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Medical Board Updates Sexual Misconduct and Harassment Policy

February 24, 2023

Effective Jan. 10, 2023, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners (BME) updated its policy addressing sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. It was recently posted to the BME’s website. The Board of Osteopathic Medical Examination does not have a policy addressing sexual misconduct.

The BME’s policy sets forth conduct that violates the statutory prohibition against unprofessional, dishonorable, or unethical conduct. The update clarifies that sexual misconduct can occur online or in person. Physicians should be cognizant of their own “grooming” behavior toward patients or their caregivers. The policy defines this as gift-giving, special treatment, or sharing of personal information used to gain trust and acquiescence to subsequent abuse.

The policy clarifies that sexual harassment can occur in an academic or training setting and not just against patients. Physicians cannot interfere with an individual’s work performance or influence professional advancement in a manner unrelated to clinical or academic performance. This means the policy applies to all levels of medical training and relates to behavior towards colleagues and subordinates like nurses and residents with whom physicians work.

The BME also clarifies that sexual contact with a former patient after the termination of a physician-patient relationship might constitute unprofessional conduct if the relationship is derived from trust, knowledge, influence, or emotions derived from the prior professional relationship. Some physician-patient relationships may never terminate because of the nature of the relationship. The BME cites psychiatry.

All licensees should read the policy, which is posted online here.