More than 70% of the workplace mistreatment that physicians are subjected to are from patients and visitors, according to a recent finding from Boston Medical Center and Stanford University School of Medicine. While patients and visitors were most likely to verbally mistreat physicians, women (31%) were twice as likely to be at the receiving end of it than their male counterparts (15%). These findings have previously been established in other studies as well. Additionally, around 5.4% of the physicians experienced sexual harassment and another 5.2% reported physical intimidation or abuse.
The survey included 1505 physicians at Stanford and was conducted at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic from September to October 2020. Out of the 1505 physicians, almost 49% were women and 47% men. Most of the physicians identified as white (48.9%), followed by Asian (26%) and only 0.8% were African American and 0.7% multiracial.
The findings revealed that overall, a quarter or 23.4% of the physicians reported workplace mistreatment within a span of one year. Other physicians were the second most common source of workplace mistreatment as 7% of them were reported in the survey.
Other than the gender disparities in the way physicians are mistreated, the study also highlighted that multiracial and Black physicians were more likely to experience at least one form of mistreatment than white and Asian physicians. Half of the Black physicians reported verbal mistreatment and as compared to 18.6% among white physicians.
The team further observed that experiencing any form of workplace mistreatment makes physicians burnout. Furthermore, it was also associated with 129% higher odds of intent to leave the profession within two years. “Conversely, having systems in place that protect physicians from mistreatment is associated with increased occupational well-being, both for those who experienced mistreatment and those who did not,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
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“An employee-centered approach is less likely to influence harmful behavior by patients and visitors. Extant efforts to reduce mistreatment perpetrated by patients and visitors include published expectations of patient behavior and procedures for dismissing (ie, refusing to serve) abusive patients,” they added.
But the researchers acknowledged that the effectiveness of these strategies in reducing workplace harassment is still unknown. The team also studied whether the bystander intervention can help in reducing incidents and found that it could help in protecting physicians from being subjected to workplace mistreatment. The five steps of bystander intervention include noticing the event, interpreting it as a problem, taking up personal responsibility by knowing how to help, and finally — stepping up.
The researchers concluded that initiatives that specifically prioritize women and physicians of color from being victimized can help in overcoming these inequities. “In addition to these intrinsic values, our study suggests that such essential efforts may also result in benefits to patients, physicians, and health care organizations through reduction of burnout and its associated impacts,” they observed. This is mainly because physician burnout has been associated with increased medical errors and patients getting harmed.