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Workplace Harassment: Medical Students and Doctors are Bullied Too

By HERWriter Guide
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doctors and medical students harrassed and bullied MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Certain doctors have a bad reputation and sometimes it's deserved. Stone-cold bedside manner, delivery of life-altering or shattering news with the same compassion as reading off the weather forecast, and unwilling to listen to a patients' own voices.

Doctors can come across as bullies, pushing their way through their careers with little concern for others.

But of course this isn't all doctors, and in my experience, not even the majority. I fire bad doctors like I'd fire anyone who isn't doing their job properly and I have the luxury to do this due to good health insurance. I know many others don't have this kind of choice.

I recently came across many accounts of medical students and young doctors themselves, being harassed, picked on, bullied and even physically pushed around by no other than their own kind -- doctors who are teaching and testing their younger charges as they navigate their way through school and residencies.

The New York Times ran a story written by Dr. Pauline W. Chen about what many students and residents go through, that their future patients will likely never know.

They are shouted at, belittled before their peers, called names and even pushed by their instructors, who see nothing wrong with their methods of "teaching".

Medical students have admitted they have also been shoved, and have had objects thrown at them for giving a wrong answer or not doing something their instructors had wanted.

Dr. Chen recounted research and surveys that show up to 85 percent of medical students face this bullying, and that is most pronounced in year three of residency.

She herself faced this and recalled doctors name-calling and abusing her class until one student finally shouted back. Dr. Chen appreciated that finally someone stood up to the bully but eventually came to realize that it didn't really work and that the outcome was essentially one doctor screaming at another.

Some medical schools finally began to take note of this kind of behavior and took steps to stop it from happening. The David Geffen School of Medicine adopted policies in the 1990s that offered workshops, classes, discussions and a private reporting option in order to foster a more encouraging and less intolerant way of instructing medical students.

They then conducted surveys to see if any of these new policies had worked and were disappointed to see that not much of a difference had been made. Instructors were still bullies, using racial slurs and sexual advancements as well as discrimination based on gender, and the old standbys of name-calling and physical pushing.

What advocates want to see is that the culture of abuse stop. Because this kind of abuse has gone on for generations, it has become a sort of accepted "hazing" technique but unlike hazing, it doesn't stop once a student has earned a stripe or too.

Their entire student career is likely to see some sort of abuse. Until this culture of abuse ends, and medical schools really do something about it (ie; get rid of the abusive doctors or discipline them immediately) nothing will change.

When nothing is done about abuse, the abusers are shown that what they do is acceptable. Medical instructors need to be held accountable.

Interestingly, the comments under Dr. Chen's piece are filled with agreement, with doctors and nurses posting their own stories of ill-treatment, racism, sexism and even physical abuse.

Of course, the medical field is not the only adult place that bullying occurs. Workplace bullying is common, either from peers or bosses.

EmpowHER writer Amy Scholten, MPH has written about persistent workplace bullying and describes it as:

• Invalid criticism and nitpicking

• Public ridicule and humiliation

• Exclusion

• Disregarding or ignoring

• Devaluation of efforts

• Threats

• Spreading harmful rumors

Less obvious bullying behaviors include:

• Deliberately withholding important information or resources

• Setting an employee up to fail

• Issuing unreasonable time or performance demands (usually not directly related to company needs or goals)

• Monitoring or controlling employee (excessively), with malicious intent

• Denying rights, such as use of leave

• Manufacturing “evidence” of incompetence or instigating complaints from others about the employee


This article is also filled with tips on how to deal with workplace harassment and the steps needed to make changes.

Most of us have seen workplace abuse and harassment in our careers -- or have been victims of it. It's stressful, affecting all aspects of our lives, and the effects are both physical and emotional.

Sick days, poor productivity, an environment of fear, depression, insomnia and ill-health are common results of workplace bullying.

Marriages and relationships can suffer. High employee turnover is also a frequent seen result which is never conducive to a supportive and productive setting.

If workplace bullying has been a part of your life, tell us your story.


The New York Times. Health/Science. Doctor and Patient. "The Bullying Culture of Medical School" by Dr. Pauline W. Chen. Web. Retrieved Monday September 10th, 2012.

EmpowHER.com. Wellness. Emotional Health. "Workplace Bullying: A Threat to Health and Well-being" by Amy Scholten, MPH. Web. Retrieved September 10th, 2012.

Reviewed September 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.