Letters

Bullying in medicine

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7340.786/a (Published 30 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:786

Those who can, do; those who can't, bully

  1. Tim Field, founder, UK national workplace bullying advice line
  1. PO Box 67, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 9YS timfield@successunlimited.co.uk
  2. North West London Hospitals NHS Trust, Harrow HA1 3UJ k.becker@ic.ac.uk
  3. Maryport, Cumbria CA15 8EL g.mackenzie@eidosnet.co.uk
  4. BMJ

    EDITOR—The experiences of the person who wrote an anonymous personal view about bullying in medicine is one I have heard related to my national workplace bullying advice line many times.1 Nursing and healthcare sector staff comprise about 12% of more than 5000 cases that have been brought to my attention. Bullies are attracted to the caring professions by the opportunities to exercise power over vulnerable clients and over vulnerable employees, who will go to great lengths to protect their relationship with their vulnerable clients.

    When a serial bully is present, competent staff (the majority) become disempowered and disenfranchised. No one dares speak up for fear of reprisals. If the writer of the personal view hadn't remained anonymous she would in effect be a whistleblower. Friends of the bully, powerful professionals, and their employers close ranks behind the alleged wrongdoer, and the whistleblower's career is effectively over.

    The stereotype of a bully as a tough dynamic manager who gets the job done is slowly changing as we begin to recognise that the sole purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy and incompetence. Employers are starting to understand the impact on budgets of high staff turnover, high sickness absence, impaired performance, lower productivity, poor team spirit, loss of trained staff to the profession, and increasing litigation by both injured patients and bullied employees.

    The stereotype of a “victim” as a weak inadequate person who somehow deserves to be bullied is giving way to the realisation that bullies, who are driven by jealousy and envy, pick on the highest performing and most skilled staff, whose mere presence is sufficient to make the bully feel insecure. Threats (of exposure of inadequacy) must be ruthlessly controlled and subjugated. Those who can, do. Those who can't, …

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