Bullying, or even subtler forms of interpersonal conflict, can be common in any kind of workplace. But it’s particularly corrosive, and dangerous, in healthcare settings, where effective teamwork really can make the difference between life and death.
See this editorial by Theresa Brown, for the NY Times: Physician, Heel Thyself
…while most doctors clearly respect their colleagues on the nursing staff, every nurse knows at least one, if not many, who don’t.
Indeed, every nurse has a story like mine, and most of us have several. A nurse I know, attempting to clarify an order, was told, “When you have ‘M.D.’ after your name, then you can talk to me.” A doctor dismissed another’s complaint by simply saying, “I’m important.”
Of course, as Brown recognizes, the issue is much more complex than simply ‘MD vs RN.’
…because doctors are at the top of the food chain, the bad behavior of even a few of them can set a corrosive tone for the whole organization. Nurses in turn bully other nurses, attending physicians bully doctors-in-training, and experienced nurses sometimes bully the newest doctors.
But even this puts too much emphasis on the behaviour of doctors; I strongly suspect that nurses (and other professionals) are perfectly capable of bullying (or “eating their own young”) even without MDs setting a negative example. The bullying that goes on within nursing (and among different parts of the nursing profession, broadly understood, including between RNs, NPs, LPNs, etc.) is just as important as the bulling that goes on between MDs and RNs.
The hardest questions I’ve ever been asked by med students and nursing students have to do with bullying, and with the difficulties inherent in being at the bottom of their respective professional hierarchies. Students understandably find it difficult — and a source of moral distress — to be not only subject to bullying, but to sometimes be involved in courses of action that they see as unethical and yet powerless to do anything about it. It’s hard to know what to tell them, because sometimes there really is very little they can do. But one thing they can do, I tell them, is to consider, starting right now, how they think they should treat those beneath them in the hierarchy, once they inevitably move up it, and how they are going to make sure they don’t fall into those all-too-common toxic behaviours.