Bullying and discrimination in the medical profession is more common than you think. I believe a lot of people experience bullying at some point in their life, especially during high school. However, I assumed becoming an adult and working in the health profession would mean an end to this childish behaviour. I was wrong. This post starts off small, but can be confronting at times.

Social Exclusion and Bullying

Basically, I work in the emergency department (for now, I change every few months) and every day you have to work with new people. Some days are great, because you have amazing co-workers. Other days are hard because you can be met with outright hostility or passive aggression.

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Assault and humiliation

My experience is a very minor one. There are incidents of outright physical assault in hospitals. A well-known surgeon threw a scalpel at his junior during an operation. His only reprimand was going to anger management classes, and he still operates at the hospital to this day. These types of events should not happen, and yet you still see it. And people don’t lose their jobs over it, they just continue working.

Even seniors experience it. My boss was on the phone in the corridor holding back tears yesterday. Voice breaking, she was saying, “you cannot speak to me like this. You can’t have a go at me.” Everyone in medicine has had it, a terrible phone call to another doctor who decides to humiliate you and won’t let you off the hook. I don’t know why it still happens, but it does.

Maybe because they had it happen to them, and they think it’s their turn to do it to someone else? This weird mentality to “toughen people up”, thinking it will make them better for it.

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Sexism unfortunately still exists. I know many people don’t believe this, but it’s true.

First of all, many patients do not believe women can be doctors. You can introduce yourself as a doctor, have doctor embroidered on your shirt, and a name tag saying the same…it won’t make a difference.

You will examine a patient, take a history, make a plan, take their blood, and still be told, “nurse, when is the doctor coming?”

During university I had many classmates say women were not suited to be doctors, that men are just naturally better.

I had an anaesthetist tell me, “you’re a woman, so you will be sexually harassed at work. But keep your head up.”

My surgical consultant once asked us a question on anatomy, and I went to answer. He put his hand in my face and said, “uh miss smarty pants, let the boys answer.”

Another surgeon told me that I couldn’t be in the room with the patient before their circumcision, as I would give him an erection.

My friend is a surgical registrar. One day a consultant saw her rounding with her boss. He asked her who she was and she introduced herself as the surg reg. He responded with, “oh, they let women do that these days? Good for you.”

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With comments like “why are there no doctors with nice normal names”, or patients yelling at you because they “just want to be seen by a white doctor”….it’s difficult to say racism does not exist in medicine.

A boss once told my Asian colleague it’s crazy his eyes were actually well formed and not needing glasses.

There was also this lovely patient who told me he had “killed ***** like me in Vietnam.” Charming!

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Tip of the iceberg

All of my personal examples mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. A survey of 10,000 trainee doctors in Australia revealed that 1 in 3 experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination…and yet only 1/3 of those people reported it.

Usually, there is a fear to speak up because the people in power are those discriminating. Sometimes you are worried of “rocking the boat”. Reporting harassment may end in you not being accepted in a training program, not getting the first choice of annual leave, or not being hired.

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Speak up, get help

I’d advise anyone experiencing discrimination or bullying to speak up. In my experience of reporting discrimination and bad behaviour it has usually helped. I think even if the outcome isn’t what you want, it’s always better to speak up than to suffer in silence. At least people know it’s happening, and sometimes just talking about things can make you feel so much better.

If you’re that scared to report harassment, maybe it isn’t the workplace you want to be a part of.

Don’t tolerate hate, and stand up for people. Do not be complicit in bullying or discrimination. Let’s be kind to each other and try to break this chain of poor behaviour.

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Feature Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash