Some bullies wear white coats, new research shows.
While healthcare workers aim to treat their patients with compassion, empathy and respect, a significant number do not follow these same ideals when working with each other, according to a recent paper from Massachusetts General Hospital.
Christine Porath, Ph.D, an expert on unprofessional behavior in the workplace, cited in the article, told Fox News Digital this week that, based on her research, “too many healthcare workers and doctors are treated with disrespect”.
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And “we’ve found that the majority don’t report it, often out of fear or desperation,” she added.
Porath has studied disrespectful workplace behavior in nearly two dozen industries, including health care, and is a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business; she is also a consultant and advises leading organizations on how to create thriving workplaces.
In an article she wrote for Harvard Business Review in November 2022 in which she also shared her research, she said workplace incivility is “defined as rudeness, disrespect, or insensitive behavior” .
For more than 20 years, she has surveyed “hundreds of thousands of people around the world about their experiences”.
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Bad behavior in the workplace is on the rise due to a number of factors, said Porath, the author of the 2022 book, “Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving.”
These factors include the stress of the COVID pandemic; the current economic downturn; the ongoing war in Ukraine; a poor sense of community; negative emotions; an increase in the use of technology; and a lack of self-awareness.
Of those surveyed, 76% of people say they experience incivility at work at least once a month.
Its recent investigation into the issue involved more than 2,000 people in more than 25 industries around the world, including frontline workers. It revealed that 76% of respondents experience – and 78% actually witness – workplace incivility at least once a month.
Porath is not the only one to have encountered problems in the fields of health.
A 2022 Medscape survey of more than 1,500 physicians found that 86% of these physicians had witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment from clinicians or staff in the past five years.
And 15% of respondents said these people misbehaved in the past year.
Health and social care workers were five times more likely to experience workplace violence than all other workers.
Additionally, health and social care workers were five times more likely to experience workplace violence than all other workers, according to incidence data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018.
The Joint Commission, which accredits more than 22,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States nationwide, last year revised requirements for “workplace violence” in the workplace.
Incidents of “workplace violence” may include “verbal, non-verbal, written or physical assaults; threatening, intimidating, harassing or humiliating words or actions; bullying; sabotage; sexual harassment; physical attacks; or other behavior of concern involving staff, licensed practitioners, patients or visitors,” the Joint Commission noted in its guidance which came into effect on January 1, 2022.
A “deliberate change” necessary
Dr. Pamela S. Douglas, a professor at the Duke School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, told Fox News Digital that confronting the problem of inappropriate behavior in the healthcare workplace should involve more than just simple “awareness raising and punitive measures”.
“The only viable long-term solution is deliberate cultural change through a system-wide approach,” she said.
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This “requires sustained leadership and [a] commitment of organizational resources,” she added.
Investigation of the complaint revealed a pattern of unprofessional behavior on the part of the specialist.
Dr. Gerald Hickson, founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy (CPPA) in Nashville, Tennessee, told Fox New Digital that he recently released a report regarding a professionalism complaint.
A newly recruited specialist ate a nurse’s apple without that nurse’s permission. “I was between cases and I was hungry,” the doctor noted, according to the report.
“What I can’t believe is that the nurse came in [an expletive] security report and YOU have a bunch of underlings wondering about sharing it,” the same doctor also said, the report notes. “It’s amazing.”
Investigation of the complaint revealed a pattern of unprofessional behavior on the part of this specialist.
The specialist’s actions ranged from criticizing a nurse in front of a patient, asking a trainee to “stop asking stupid questions”, to refusing to participate in a “time out” before a procedure begins.
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For 25 years, Hickson’s organization “has partnered with hospitals across the United States, now more than 200 sites, to conduct research and develop tools and define processes to identify and intervene to support 2.5 % to 4% of our professional workforce who model disrespect and threaten care outcomes,” Hickson noted.
Consequences of behavior
Unprofessional behavior can impact patient care.
It can also cause psychological distress, job dissatisfaction, encourage workers to call in sick and lead to high turnover, according to the Joint Commission.
“As a medical student, I encountered a senior resident who modeled classic bullying behavior towards learners.”
“Patients who receive care from physicians who model disrespect for other team members, patients, and families are more likely to experience preventable medical and surgical complications and to die,” Hickson noted.
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Dr. Kellie Lease Stecher is President and Co-Founder of Patient Care Heroes, a platform that advocates for change within medical culture and aims to tell the stories of healthcare workers who have sacrificed their lives for their profession.
Based in Minneapolis, Stecher told Fox News Digital, “Medical school is where it starts – the toxic medical culture, the gossip, the bullying and so much more.”
Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, chief of the division of hematology at the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami, recalls his own experience later in training.
“During my hematology/oncology fellowship, I would estimate that two-thirds of my trainee class showed signs of burnout or frank depression,” Sekeres told Fox News Digital.
“Nothing has been done to improve the psychological well-being of trainees.”
“It would manifest as anger towards patients or other healthcare providers, insomnia issues, relationship issues and pervasive cynicism,” added Sekeres, who is also the author of the book “Drugs and the FDA: Safety, Efficacy, and the Public’s Confidence.”
“Nothing was done to remedy the psychological well-being of the trainees,” he recalled. “Many have since left patient care and the profession, completely.”
Nashville’s Hickson still remembers to this day how one of his superiors treated him in practice so many years ago.
“As a medical student, I encountered a senior resident who modeled classic bullying behavior directed at learners,” Hickson said.
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“And [this individual] told us that one day we would thank him for the lessons he taught.”
He added: “I learned several valuable lessons – but they were about how bullying behavior threatens team performance and contributes to medical errors.”
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