(…) “One doesn’t have to work in a hospital long to experience or observe some form of disrespect. This is hardly a secret. The bullying culture of medicine has been widely written about and portrayed in popular media. In one study, published in 2012 and conducted over the course of 13 years at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, more than 50 per cent of medical students across the US said they experienced some form of mistreatment. Behind closed doors, we share advice on whom to hang around and whom to avoid.
We’ve known for years that entering the ranks of medicine means developing a thick skin to criticism and being made to feel small. For a long time there was a mystique that this culture held everyone to high standards, and it was the price we paid for the care we got. What is disturbing is the increasing recognition that bullies are not only bad people to be around – they’re bad doctors, too.
(…) The link between harsh words and medical errors was reignited in 2012 when Lucian Leape, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, published a two-part series in Academic Medicine. ‘A substantial barrier to progress in patient safety is a dysfunctional culture rooted in widespread disrespect,’ Leape and his co-authors asserted. ‘Disrespect is a threat to patient safety because it inhibits collegiality and co-operation essential to teamwork, cuts off communication, undermines morale, and inhibits compliance with and implementation of new practices.’
It’s not that jerky personalities are reserved for those at the top. There are nice people and mean people at every rank. But in a system dependent on the proper functioning of hierarchy, it works like this: when anger and intimidation flow down, information stops flowing up. The chain of communication becomes clogged.”
Leape LL, Shore MF, Dienstag JL, et al. Perspective: a culture of respect, part 1: the nature and causes of disrespectful behavior by physicians. Acad Med 2012;87:845–52.
“A substantial barrier to progress in patient safety is a dysfunctional culture rooted in widespread disrespect. The authors identify a broad range of disrespectful conduct, suggesting six categories for classifying disrespectful behavior in the health care setting: disruptive behavior; humiliating, demeaning treatment of nurses, residents, and students; passive-aggressive behavior; passive disrespect; dismissive treatment of patients; and systemic disrespect.At one end of the spectrum, a single disruptive physician can poison the atmosphere of an entire unit. More common are everyday humiliations of nurses and physicians in training, as well as passive resistance to collaboration and change. Even more common are lesser degrees of disrespectful conduct toward patients that are taken for granted and not recognized by health workers as disrespectful.Disrespect is a threat to patient safety because it inhibits collegiality and cooperation essential to teamwork, cuts off communication, undermines morale, and inhibits compliance with and implementation of new practices. Nurses and students are particularly at risk, but disrespectful treatment is also devastating for patients. Disrespect underlies the tensions and dissatisfactions that diminish joy and fulfillment in work for all health care workers and contributes to turnover of highly qualified staff. Disrespectful behavior is rooted, in part, in characteristics of the individual, such as insecurity or aggressiveness, but it is also learned, tolerated, and reinforced in the hierarchical hospital culture. A major contributor to disrespectful behavior is the stressful health care environment, particularly the presence of “production pressure,” such as the requirement to see a high volume of patients.”
Leape LL, Shore MF, Dienstag JL, et al. Perspective: a culture of respect, part 2: creating a culture of respect. Acad Med 2012;87:853–8. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182583536
Creating a culture of respect is the essential first step in a health care organization’s journey to becoming a safe, high-reliability organization that provides a supportive and nurturing environment and a workplace that enables staff to engage wholeheartedly in their work. A culture of respect requires that the institution develop effective methods for responding to episodes of disrespectful behavior while also initiating the cultural changes needed to prevent such episodes from occurring. Both responding to and preventing disrespect are major challenges for the organization’s leader, who must create the preconditions for change, lead in establishing and enforcing policies, enable frontline worker engagement, and facilitate the creation of a safe learning environment.When disrespectful behavior occurs, it must be addressed consistently and transparently. Central to an effective response is a code of conduct that establishes unequivocally the expectation that everyone is entitled to be treated with courtesy, honesty, respect, and dignity. The code must be enforced fairly through a clear and explicit process and applied consistently regardless of rank or station. Creating a culture of respect requires action on many fronts: modeling respectful conduct; educating students, physicians, and nonphysicians on appropriate behavior; conducting performance evaluations to identify those in need of help; providing counseling and training when needed; and supporting frontline changes that increase the sense of fairness, transparency, collaboration, and individual responsibility.