author suggests bullies are roaming the hallways of hospitals

The issue of bullying in school settings has gained national attention over the last decade thanks to the collective efforts of teachers, students, victim advocacy groups and, of course, lawmakers. Indeed, the majority of the states have now passed some type of legislation designed to protect students from sustained and harmful harassment by their peers.

While you would naturally think that bullying behavior is confined to the schoolyard, this isn’t always the case. Studies have routinely shown that workplace bullying — often practiced by those in positions of authority — is all too real.

In fact, a recently released article by a third-year medical student at Harvard Medical School suggests that bullying in the hospital setting is all too real and, most shocking of all, that this bullying can have dire consequences for patient care.

The piece, published in the latest edition of Aeon Magazine, argues that bullying of medical students and residents by attending physicians, surgeons and even senior nurses is common in hospital settings, and it thrives because of the mistaken belief that this bullying will somehow serve to toughen up these young physicians and make them better at their jobs.

“The surgeon who chides the nurse for her inability to be in two places at once? The nurse who snaps at the medical student for reading the patient’s chart the same moment she wants to write in it?” reads the column. “They are a substantial, troubling minority, and they can set the mood for the rest.”

Here, “the rest” referred to by the physician-author is not the creation of a better, more prepared physician, but rather a more ill-tempered physician who is not only more prone to making medical mistakes, but also to prolonging this culture of intimidation once he or she reaches a position of power.

As if all this weren’t disturbing enough, the author theorizes that hospital bullying — from overt yelling and screaming to the more subtle public shaming and sarcastic responses — can serve to harm patients.

To illustrate, she uses an example in which a resident or nurse may be hesitant to discuss a patient’s problems with an abusive attending physician out of fear of being bullied for an incorrect response or action. Situations like these, she argues, can allow a patient’s health problem to worsen, as time is of the essence in hospital settings, and the attending physician may not learn otherwise vital information until it’s too late.

“In a system dependent on hierarchy, it works like this: when anger and intimidation flow down, information stops flowing up,” writes the author.

It’s truly shocking and dismaying to think that this kind of conduct is going on at our nation’s hospitals and that it can be putting the health and safety of patients at risk. We can only hope that columns like these shed a light on this type of hospital negligence and lead administrators to implement the necessary policies and procedures.

Source: FierceHealthcare, “Hospital bullies pose a danger to patient safety,” Zack Budryk, Feb. 3, 2014

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