Is Bullying in Healthcare Becoming More Problematic?

Bullying is an alarming issue that transcends industries, and unfortunately, the healthcare sector is no exception. Our recent poll of the Figure 1 community revealed a staggering 88% of respondents have experienced bullying in healthcare. This statistic is quite unnerving and indicates a need for action to ensure healthcare professionals can do their jobs without fear of being attacked by their patients or their colleagues.

The poll responses unveiled a spectrum of bullying experiences within healthcare, ranging from interpersonal conflicts among colleagues to explicit provider-on-provider harassment. Stories recount instances of bullying by management, leading to toxic work environments and emotional distress for healthcare professionals. The scope of the issue suggests that bullying is deeply rooted and requires comprehensive intervention strategies. The following stories are just some of what we heard from the Figure 1 community about bullying in healthcare. 

The Impact on Patient Care

The repercussions of bullying in healthcare extend beyond individual suffering. Stories of being asked to compromise patient care for the sake of speed highlight the potential danger posed by bullying. A culture that prioritizes power dynamics over patient well-being threatens the very foundation of healthcare. One respondent shared, “I was asked to do short cuts in my patient care. I refused to do so and was told they could get someone else. I did not want to endanger my patients in my care so they fired me.”

Management’s Role

A common theme emerged in our respondent’s answers — the lack of effective intervention by management, leading to a culture where bullies thrive and victims suffer in silence.

Many respondents shared that management was a major issue, asserting that managers either turn a blind eye to bullying or actively contributed to the problem. One respondent said, “I was subjected to homophobic bullying for some time by a manager, I reported it to the matron and it was continually ignored …” The sentiment expressed is that reporting incidents often leads to inaction, leaving victims without recourse. 

Instances where managers participate in or encourage bullying create a toxic workplace culture that erodes the morale of healthcare professionals. Effective management intervention is crucial in fostering a safe and supportive work environment.

The Importance of Speaking Up

Several respondents stressed the significance of immediate and assertive action in the face of bullying. From confronting bullies directly to escalating the issue through appropriate channels, healthcare professionals highlighted the need for proactive measures. A respondent shared, “Most certainly have a discussion with the person. If that doesn’t work then [confront] each encounter without being intimidated by it. [Not in a] tit for tat way but [in a] way in which the other person understands that you have boundaries …”

Bullying in healthcare is not a problem that can be swept under the rug. Respondents emphasized the need for systemic change, calling for accountability at all levels, from frontline staff to management and beyond. Addressing the root causes of bullying requires a commitment to fostering a culture of respect, empathy, and professionalism within healthcare organizations.

Published February 19, 2024

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