Bullying is a prevalent social phenomenon that makes no distinction as to where and whom. Hospital settings are no different. Although common among doctors, it is usually the people under their supervision who suffer, namely the nurses and other hospital staff.
A study by Dr. Rosenstein et al., entitled “A Survey of the Impact of Disruptive Behaviors and
Communication Defects on Patient Safety” concerns itself with how deeply damaging this phenomenon actually is. Reports of bullying involve name calling, sarcasm, and passive-aggressive behavior which are mostly targeted at assisting staff. In Dr. Rosenstein’s study involving over 4,500 healthcare workers, results show that 77% of respondents reported constant harassment and bullying from doctors in work-related settings and a staggering 65% among nurses. These are alarming numbers. Behaviors are deemed to be so engrossing as to be disruptive during critical hospital scenarios and impacts are felt well after work hours. As it is, staff mental health suffers not necessarily from the work experience but largely due to the persons with whom they work.
How does this affect healthcare?
While the primary victims are the staff, this essentially redounds to the quality of healthcare produced by their collective efforts. Patients suffer more when the staff are hostile. This is best illustrated by the results of a study by Dr. Leape et. al., entitled “Problem Doctors: Is There a System-Level Solution?”. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last 2006, the study reports a third of complaints directed towards staff were concerned with unwarranted aggression, some form of outburst, and poor quality of service. The aggression trickles down from positions of power down to the rank and file which eventually finds its way to unsuspecting patients, resulting to 40% of the total number of malpractice lawsuits.
What is a good solution?
Instead of bullying, Dr. Wight suggest mentoring. Having worked as a haematology specialist in about six hospitals in Australia, he is now an advocate for anti-bullying and pro-mentoring. Similar to what one would hear during a guidance counseling session, he recommends seeing the bullies as the victims themselves. Doctors’ hostility towards lower tier hospital staff is due to their own frustrations with managerialism and bureaucracy in the hospital.
This makes it understandable while not necessarily justifiable. Bullying results from high-pressure environments where margins for error are stressfully minimal. Many of these hospital settings involving doctor-bullies are poorly equipped, understaffed, and have punishing work hours that allow little time for recreation or family. Dr. Wight recommends mentoring as an alternative remedy for bullying and for overall improvement of hospital scenarios. When doctors stop seeing their staff as people they can simply order around at will, they develop new forms of respect. However, this drive has to come from upper management and the sooner they recognize the toxicity of the workplace, the sooner a solution can be enacted.
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