Physicians: Tolerating bullying is not part of the job — here are 3 ways to stop it

Harassment and bullying are not new to medicine, but they have been on the rise the last few years — especially among female and minority physicians, according to a Nov. 16 American Medical Association article.

A study published in JAMA Network Open found that 30 percent of 6,512 physicians experienced ethnically offensive remarks in the previous year, and 28.7 percent experienced offensive sexist remarks. In addition, 15 percent of physicians reported being physically harmed.

"It's far better to prevent or intervene than it is to actually do something about it later. So, the punishment, the reporting systems, the various different systems that we put into place when something has happened are very important, but far less powerful than actually stopping it from starting," AMA member Susannah Rowe, MD, said at the 2022 International Conference on Physician Health.

Here are three ways to prevent bullying, according to Dr. Rowe, AMA member Heather Farley, MD, and Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Canadian Medical Association:

  1. Recognize bullying causes harm to everyone, and report bullying even when it is not directed at you. "We have culture that you have to be brave to report. That honestly is one of the most harmful ideas that exist in reporting right now," Dr. Lafontaine said in the article. "A system where you have to be courageous to talk about the harm that's happening to you is a broken system."

  2. Give leaders the tools to respond effectively to reports; creating policies is the first step. The AMA recommends reading its policy on bullying.

  3. Make it clear bullying will not be tolerated and help physicians understand that tolerating it is not part of their job. "One of the basic tenets that is out there is organizations should have a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence and for harassment and bullying," Dr. Farley, chief wellness officer at Newark, Del.-based ChristianaCare, said in the article. "We've just gone to a zero-tolerance code of conduct for all of our facilities," and it applies to physicians, employees, patients and visitors, according to the article.

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