Dealing with a Doctor Who Bullies
How to deal with a difficult doctor
The healthcare profession attracts many wonderful people who are genuinely selfless and empathetic. But, there are also many doctors who seem to think that long years of medical training and expertise guarantee their co-workers will tolerate their abusive behavior. They bully, threaten, demean, refuse to answer questions or return phone calls, even throw things, effectively making everyone in their orbit miserable.
Unfortunately, a difficult doctor can create a work environment that is so toxic it endangers the lives of his patients. The Joint Commission released a statement warning that intimidating and disruptive behaviors by healthcare workers can contribute to poor patient satisfaction, increase the likelihood of preventable adverse outcomes (including patient mortality), raise the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, managers and administrators to seek new positions in more professional environments.
Doctors aren’t the only bullies in the medical profession. Nurses, therapists, pharmacists and other administrators and support staff can behave in intimidating and disruptive ways, undermining the morale and cohesion of the medical team. In a recent study, 88% of respondents reported they had witnessed nurses behave disruptively as well. The important thing is that whoever the bully is, the hospital recognizes that this sort of behavior threatens patient safety.
Unfortunately, sometimes health care organizations don’t act quickly or effectively to confront unprofessional and disruptive behavior. If you are dealing with a difficult doctor, or another hostile co-worker, you probably need a solution that works right now, without waiting for Human Resources. So, what can you do to deal with a bully at work?
Remain calm during confrontations
A bullying coworker can raise the temperature in the room quickly. Still, you have to remain calm. Vitriolic language – or physical confrontation – will only make you seem equally responsible in the eyes of bystanders. It certainly won’t help your patients. Be calm but firm. State what you need, i.e. “You cannot throw those surgical instruments at me,” and then negotiate a positive outcome.
Don’t gossip about co-workers with co-workers
Especially when you’re dealing with a person who really antagonizes you, it can be tempting to gossip. We all need to blow off a little steam sometimes. Choose your audience carefully, though. While other co-workers might be sympathetic, it can weaken your position if you look spiteful or vindictive. If you have to talk to someone, speak to a close friend who’s not intimately connected with your workplace. Otherwise, save your grievances for HR.
Document any disruptive behavior
Nurses and doctors work long and punishing hours. People in high-stress situations may occasionally lose their temper and act uncharacteristically. A bully, in contrast, has established pattern of intimidating and disruptive behavior. Before you go to human resources, it may help to have evidence of unprofessional behavior. Document times, places, and specific behavior that you found abusive. Save any written communications. And, if you decide to confront the bully directly, bring an impartial witness to the conversation.
Know your rights
If you work at a large healthcare organization, there are probably some workplace policies already in place to deal with these sorts of situations. Determine whether what has happened violates those policies, and make sure that your own behavior conforms to the stated guidelines. Then, decide whether to use an existing reporting policy to lodge a complaint about a difficult doctor or co-worker.
What if you feel genuinely unsafe?
Depending on the gravity of the situation, you may need to seek out help beyond the hospital. If no laws have been broken, but your working situation is frightening or intolerable, go to your superiors or the human resources department. Calmly but clearly communicate that you don’t feel safe and ask them to intervene immediately. A bullying doctor may retaliate after you report, so you may also want to quietly begin looking for another job.
Make time to take care of yourself
Temperamentally nurses may be inclined to put the needs of others before their own. This may make it difficult to confront a difficult doctor or a workplace bully. Remember to practice self-care as you negotiate this difficult and hurtful situation. Spend time with loved ones, take a few days off work, and enjoy your hobbies.
Perhaps you feel like you’re often the victim of bullying at work or in your personal life. It may be time to seek out professional help in the form of therapy or assertiveness training. Having an experienced person work with you to improve your communication or boundaries might help you resolve your current situation, and avoid similar victimization in the future.
Because disruptive behaviors endanger patients, everyone has a responsibility to end workplace bullying. When you step up and speak out you can make a difference. It takes courage, but change is possible. And while you are busy being a force for good in the workplace, remember that the Uniform Outlet supports you with the best prices on medical scrubs every day. Dress like the superhero you are!