View from a Surgeon: Bullying in the Workplace

View from a Surgeon: Bullying in the Workplace

I have been bullied all my life. When I was a small kid (and I was really small) I was bullied by two boys and a girl for weeks until I stood up to them and, in a blind rage, hit out. I am not by any stretch of the imagination advocating getting physical to sort out bullying, but at that time, in that place, it was the right thing to do. I certainly got a reputation after that and was avoided by the main “in crowd”. It led to a certain lonely time at school that I have never really got over. I still prefer my own company even up to today.

I hear reports about bullying in Medicine. That saddens me. As a group of individuals we are certainly on the extremes of personality and temperament. Generally, we are a group of highly intelligent men and women, but with little common sense in the main. So why do I think bullying is present in medicine?

If you look at the personality types as well as the intense stress and strain of being a medic, you can see where flash points can arise. It may be a personality clash, but more often it is one individual in a position of power and authority using that authority to undermine another individual.

So why undermine another person? Some people do it to make themselves appear better, more intelligent, right. They attempt to rise at the expense of diminishing another, whereas all they do is create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. The risk in doing that is that if you are the victim then you can go one of two ways – either you swear that you will never be a bully, or you become a bully yourself.  I have chosen to be understanding and inclusive. I have never, nor will I ever bully anyone.

In closing, one final matter. Medicine is about life and death. It is critical that you get it right. There is no room for error. So if you get told off for missing something clinical, take it as it is intended – to teach and to make sure that the patient is treated appropriately and in a timely manner. That is not bullying, and we should all know and appreciate the difference.

How do I deal with bullies? I either move away from them and don’t associate with them, or I ask them why are they speaking to me like that? Be gentle in your dealing with bullies, but be assertive. Sometimes even walk away, or apologise. It can defuse a situation. I know it is tempting to rise and be as aggressive back as they are to you, and in many ways that is exactly what a bully wants to see. They have got under your skin, they have got a rise out of you. Don’t give then the privilege of seeing that.

Hopefully as we tolerate them less they will diminish, but they will always be here.

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