Bullying of senior doctors creates a ‘toxic work environment’

doctor burnout

A survey of United Kingdom obstetricians and gynecologists found that frequent and persistent bullying and undermining in the field is fairly common--about 44 percent of respondents reported it, according to a study published in BMJ Open.

The survey of 664 senior doctors found that many feel their work has been undermined and undervalued. Close to 50 percent of those who responded said they have been routinely ignored or excluded--some for as long as five years. Unhappy doctors are a sign that a healthcare organization has potential patient safety concerns, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The results of the study demonstrate that physicians “need more support and we should acknowledge and address the scale of the problem in all grades of staff,” said Joanna Mountfield, M.D., a consultant obstetrician from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a study co-author, in an announcement.

Here are some additional findings:

  • Leaders bully senior doctors. The senior physicians--who have eight or more years of specialty-specific postgraduate experience--are typically bullied by clinician leaders, medical directors and board-level executives, according to the study.
  • Both men and women are bullies. Thirty-seven percent of victims said they were mostly bullied by men, whereas 28 percent said they were typically bullied by women; the remaining 35 percent were harassed by bullies of both sexes, the study found.
  • Bullies act alone and in groups. Most of the senior doctors were bullied by single perpetrators, but bullies acting in groups were also quite common, the survey respondents said.

The results of the study come as no surprise to Pamela Wible, M.D., a Eugene, Oregon-based family medicine doctor and an expert in physician suicide prevention, reports Medscape. Many doctors are poised to quit medicine because of this bullying behavior, which creates a “toxic work environment,” she told the publication. Ongoing psychological support on a system-wide basis will be required to solve this problem, adds Wible, who wasn’t involved in the study.

- read the study
- here's the announcement
- check out Medscape article