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This article primarily concerns bullying involving doctors. For bullying involving nurses see Bullying in nursing.

Bullying in the medical profession is common, particularly of student or trainee doctors. It is thought that this is at least in part an outcome of conservative traditional hierarchical structures and teaching methods in the medical profession which may result in a bullying cycle.

According to Field, bullies are attracted to the caring professions, such as medicine, by the opportunities to exercise power over vulnerable clients and over vulnerable employees.[1]


Bullying can significantly decrease job satisfaction and increase job-induced stress; it also leads to low self confidence, depression, anxiety and a desire to leave employment.[1][2] Bullying contributes to high rates of staff turnover, high rates of sickness absence, impaired performance, lower productivity, poor team spirit and loss of trained staff.[1] This has implications for the recruitment and retention of medical staff.

Bullying of medical students

Main article: Bullying in academia

Medical students, perhaps being vulnerable because of their relatively low status in health care settings, may experience verbal abuse, humiliation and harassment (nonsexual or sexual). Discrimination based on gender and race are less common.[3]

In one study, around 35% of medical students reported having been bullied. Around one in four of the 1,000 students questioned said they had been bullied by a doctor, while one in six had been bullied by a nurse. Manifestations of bullying include:[4]

  • being humiliated by teachers in front of patients
  • been victimised for not having come from a "medical family"
  • being put under pressure to carry out a procedure without supervision.

One study showed that the medical faculty was the faculty in which students were most commonly mistreated.[5]

Bullying extends to postgraduate students.[6][7]

Bullying of junior (trainee) doctors

In a UK study, 37% of junior doctors reported being bullied in the previous year and 84% had experienced at least one bullying behaviour. Black and Asian doctors were more likely to be bullied than other doctors. Women were more likely to be bullied than men.[8]

Trainee doctors who feel threatened in the clinical workplace develop less effectively and are less likely to ask for advice or help when they need it.[9] [10]

Persistent destructive criticism, sarcastic comments and humiliation in front of colleagues will cause all but the most resilient of trainees to lose confidence in themselves.[11]

Consultants who feel burnt out and alienated may take their disaffection out on junior colleagues.[11]

Bullying cycle

Medical training usually takes place in institutions that have a highly-structured hierarchical system, and has traditionally involved teaching by intimidation and humiliation.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Such practices may foster a culture of bullying and the setting up of a cycle of bullying, analogous to other cycles of abuse in which those who experience it go on to abuse others when they become more senior. Doctors are increasingly reporting to the British Medical Association that they are being bullied, often by older and more senior colleagues, many of whom were badly treated themselves when more junior.[12]

Bullying in psychiatry

The psychiatric profession might be expected to be particularly sensitive to bullying and its consequences. However psychiatric trainees experience rates of bullying at least as high as other medical students. In a survey of psychiatric trainees in the West Midlands, 47% had experienced bullying within the last year with even higher percentages amongst ethnic minorities and females. Qualified psychiatrists are not themselves required to be psychiatrically tested.[13][14]

Doctors bullying/abusing patients and nurses

Main article: Patient abuse

Template:Expand section There have been quite a few proven cases of doctors bullying and/or sexually harassing patients and nurses.[15][16]

Speaking of many doctor's predilection of bullying nurses, Teresa Brown writes:

"...the most damaging bullying is not flagrant and does not fit the stereotype of a surgeon having a tantrum in the operating room. It is passive, like not answering pages or phone calls, and tends toward the subtle: condescension rather than outright abuse, and aggressive or sarcastic remarks rather than straightforward insults."[17]

Bullying in nursing

Main article: Bullying in nursing

Nurses experience bullying quite frequently.[18][19] It is thought that relational aggression (psychological aspects of bullying such as gossipping and intimidation) are commonplace. Relational aggression has been studied among girls but not so much among adult women.[20][21]

In popular culture

Sir Lancelot Spratt, a character played by actor James Robertson Justice in the film series Doctor in the House, is often referenced as the archetypal arrogant bullying doctor ruling by fear.

In the American sitcom Scrubs, Dr. Cox uses intimidation and sarcasm as methods of tormenting the interns and expressing his dislike towards them and their company.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 (2002). Bullying in medicine. BMJ 324 (7340): 786.
  2. (2001). Social defeat as a stressor in humans. Physiology & Behavior 73 (3): 435–42.
  3. (2009). Mistreatment of Trainees: Verbal Abuse and Other Bullying Behaviors. Academic Psychiatry 33 (4): 269–73.
  4. Curtis P Medical students complain of bullying The Guardian 4 May 2005
  5. (2005). Mistreatment of university students most common during medical studies. BMC Medical Education 5: 36.
  6. (2004). A questionnaire survey of stress and bullying in doctors undertaking research. Postgraduate Medical Journal 80 (940): 93–6.
  7. (2007). Bullying among trainee doctors in Southern India: A questionnaire study. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine 53 (2): 87–90.
  8. (2002). Workplace bullying in junior doctors: Questionnaire survey. BMJ 324 (7342): 878–9.
  9. (1975). Two familial cases of congenital erythroderma ichthyosiforme. Revue médicale de Liège 30 (13): 439–44.
  10. Fears reprisals by warning of research fraud [1]
  11. 11.0 11.1 Paice E, Smith D. Bullying of trainee doctors is a patient safety issue. The Clinical Teacher 2009; 6:13-7.
  12. Williams K (1998) Stress linked to bullying. BMA News Review, April 18
  13. (2004). A survey of workplace bullying of psychiatric trainees in the West Midlands. Psychiatric Bulletin 28 (6): 225–7.
  14. Gadit AA Bullying in psychiatry must stop - Clinical Psychiatry News, May, 2007
  15. Doctor faces court-martial in patient abuse case Stars and Stripes January 16, 2010
  16. 'Groping' surgeon found guilty BBC News 28 July 2002
  17. title="Physician Heel Thyself"|url=''
  18. (2008). The development and validation of a bullying inventory for the nursing workplace. Nurse researcher 15 (2): 19–29.
  19. (2008). Transforming work environments. Interview by Diane E Scott and Amanda Rosenkranz. The American nurse 40 (2): 7.
  20. Richards A, Edwards SL A Nurse's Survival Guide to the Ward (2008)Template:Page needed
  21. (2009). Bullying among nurses. The American journal of nursing 109 (1): 52–8.

Further reading

  • (2008). Bullying of Medical Students in Pakistan: A Cross-Sectional Questionnaire Survey. PLoS ONE 3 (12): e3889.
  • (2007). Poorly performing supervisors and trainers of trainee doctors. Psychiatric Bulletin 31 (4): 148–52.
  • (2006). Experiences of belittlement and harassment and their correlates among medical students in the United States: Longitudinal survey. BMJ 333 (7570): 682–0.
  • (2008). A pilot study of bullying and harassment among medical professionals in Pakistan, focussing on psychiatry: Need for a medical ombudsman. Journal of Medical Ethics 34 (6): 463–6.
  • (2010). Bullying of junior doctors in Pakistan: A cross-sectional survey. Singapore medical journal 51 (7): 592–5.
  • (2003). A report on student abuse during medical training. Medical Teacher 25 (5): 497–501.
  • (2010). Bullying of medical students. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons--Pakistan : JCPSP 20 (12): 814–8.
  • (2004). Bullying among doctors in training: Cross sectional questionnaire survey. BMJ 329 (7467): 658–9.
  • Mistry M and Latoo J Bullying: a growing workplace menace BJMP Mar 2009 Volume 2 Number 1
  • (2003). Who's a bully then?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 326 (7393): S127.
  • (1999). Workplace bullying in NHS community trust: Staff questionnaire survey. BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 318 (7178): 228–32.
  • Vanderstar ES Workplace Bullying in the Healthcare Professions 2004 8 Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal 455
  • (2006). Bullying and harassment in medical schools. BMJ 333 (7570): 664–5.
  • Wood DF Bullying in medical schools Student BMJ October 2006

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