Thugs in white coats? Studies show that “too many” healthcare workers face toxic jobs

Some bullies wear white coats, new research shows.

While healthcare workers strive to treat their patients with compassion, empathy, and respect, a significant number don’t follow the same ideals when working together, according to a recent article published by 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 being treated disrespectfully.”

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And “we found that the majority don’t report it, often out of fear or hopelessness,” she added.

Porath has studied disrespectful workplace behavior in nearly two dozen industries, including healthcare, and is a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She is also a consultant and advises leading companies on how to create successful jobs.

"Too many healthcare workers and doctors are treated with disrespect" by others in the workplace, a behavior expert told Fox News Digital.

“Too many healthcare workers and doctors are treated with disrespect by others in the workplace,” a behavior expert told Fox News Digital.
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In an article she wrote for Harvard Business Review in November 2022, which also shared her research, she said rudeness at work is “defined as rudeness, disrespect, or insensitive behavior.”

For more than 20 years she has been asking “hundreds of thousands of people worldwide about their experiences”.

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Bad behavior in the workplace is on the rise due to a number of factors, said Porath, author of the 2022 book Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving.

These factors include stress from the COVID pandemic; today’s economic downturn; the ongoing war in Ukraine; a bad sense of community; negative emotions; an increase in the use of technology; and a lack of self-confidence.

76% of respondents said they experience rudeness at work at least once a month.

Their most recent survey on the subject included over 2,000 people in more than 25 industries worldwide, including frontline workers. It found that 76% of respondents experience rudeness at work at least once a month – and 78% actually experience it.

A 2022 Medscape survey of more than 1,500 physicians found that 86% of these physicians had witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment by clinicians or staff in the past five years.

A 2022 Medscape survey of more than 1,500 physicians found that 86% of these physicians had witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment by clinicians or staff in the past five years.
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Porath isn’t the only one who has identified health care issues.

A 2022 Medscape survey of more than 1,500 physicians found that 86% of these physicians had witnessed or experienced bullying or harassment by clinicians or staff in the past five years.

And 15% of respondents said these people had misbehaved in the last year.

Health and social care workers were five times more likely to experience workplace violence than any other worker.

Also, health and social care workers were five times more likely than all other workers to experience workplace violence, according to 2018 incidence data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Joint Commission, which nationally accredits more than 22,000 U.S. health organizations and programs, revised workplace requirements for “workplace violence” last year.

To combat bullying, harassment and other highly inappropriate and undesirable behavior in the workplace, a medical school professor said it takes more than just that "awareness-raising and sanctions."

To combat bullying, harassment and other highly inappropriate and undesirable behavior in the workplace, a medical school professor said it takes more than just “raising awareness and taking punitive action.”
(iStock)

Incidents of “workplace violence” can include “verbal, non-verbal, written, or physical aggression; threatening, intimidating, harassing, or degrading words or actions; Mobbing; Sabotage; sexual harassment; physical assaults; Patients or visitors,” the Joint Commission noted in its guidelines, which went into effect on January 1, 2022.

Targeted change required

dr Pamela S. Douglas, a professor at Duke School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, told Fox News Digital that addressing the issue of inappropriate behavior in the healthcare workplace should encompass more than just “raising awareness and taking remedial action.”

“The only viable long-term solution is targeted culture change through a systems-wide approach,” she said.

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It “requires sustained leadership and [a] Deployment of organizational resources,” she added.

The investigation of the complaint revealed a pattern of unprofessional behavior by the specialist.

dr Gerald Hickson, founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy (CPPA) in Nashville, Tennessee, told Fox New Digital about a recent report he published that included a professionalism complaint.

A newly hired 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 entered [an expletive] Security report and YOU have a group of servants wondering if they can share it,” the same doctor also said, the report said. “That’s incredible.”

The specialist's actions ranged from criticizing a nurse in front of a patient to a solicitation to a trainee "stop asking stupid questions" refuse to participate a "time out" before a process has started.

The specialist’s actions ranged from criticizing a nurse in front of a patient, to telling a trainee to “stop asking stupid questions,” to refusing to attend a “time-out” before a procedure begins.
(iStock)

The investigation of the complaint revealed a pattern of unprofessional behavior by this specialist.

The specialist’s actions have ranged from criticizing a nurse in front of a patient to asking a trainee to “stop asking stupid questions” to refusing to attend “time off” before a procedure begins.

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For 25 years, “Hickson’s organization has worked with hospitals across the US, now in over 200 locations, to conduct research and develop tools and define processes to identify and intervene with the 2.5% to 4% of our professional workforce who are… Exemplifying disrespect and threatening patient outcomes,” Hickson noted.

consequences of behavior

Unprofessional behavior can impact patient care.

According to the Joint Commission, it can also lead to psychological distress and job dissatisfaction, encourage workers to call in sick and result in high staff turnover.

“As a medical student, I encountered an older resident who mimicked classic bullying behavior toward students.”

“Patients cared for by physicians who demonstrate disrespect for other team members, patients and families are more likely to suffer preventable medical and surgical complications and death,” 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 in medical culture and aims to tell the stories of healthcare workers who have sacrificed their lives for their profession.

Stecher, who lives in Minneapolis, told Fox News Digital, “Medical school is where it all starts — the toxic medical culture, gossip, bullying and so much more.”

A doctor still remembers how badly a supervisor treated him many years ago.  This individual "told us that one day we would thank him for the lessons he taught," said the doctor.

A doctor still remembers how badly a supervisor treated him many years ago. This person “told us that one day we would thank him for the lessons he taught,” the doctor said.
(iStock)

dr Mikkael Sekeres, director of the department of hematology at the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami, recalls his own experiences later in the training.

“During my fellowship in hematology/oncology, I estimated that two-thirds of my class of trainees were showing signs of burnout or overt depression,” Sekeres told Fox News Digital.

“No action was taken to address the mental well-being of the trainees.”

“This would translate into anger toward patients or other healthcare providers, insomnia issues, relationship issues, and a pervasive cynicism,” added Sekeres, who is also the author of Drugs and the FDA: Safety, Efficacy, and the Public’s Confidence.”

“No action was taken to address the mental well-being of the trainees,” he recalled. “Many have since given up patient care and the profession altogether.”

Hickson from Nashville still remembers how one of his supervisors treated him in training so many years ago.

“As a medical student, I encountered an older resident who was mimicking classic student bullying behaviors,” 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 some valuable lessons – but they were about how intimidating behavior threatens team performance and contributes to medical errors.”

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