Picture this scenario. A Napoleon-like 5 foot 2 verbally abusive surgeon enters the reading room. He begins to yell at you for not performing an intussusception reduction the way he likes. Moreover, a team of surgical residents stand behind him, each member turning red with embarrassment as he continues with his tirade. His verbal abusiveness becomes more and more aggressive. He uses terms such as “idiot” and “moron” to describe you as you attempt to get a word in edgewise. You feel like you want to strike your fist in his face. Does this situation sound vaguely familiar? How would you deal with this everyday but unfortunate situation when you are alone at nighttime?
First, no one should have to contend with harassment such as this. I don’t care if you are a resident, nurse, janitor, or attending. Unfortunately, although society has finally come to terms with refusing such abusive behavior and isolating these individuals, many hospitals still silently condone it. How and why? Perhaps, the hospital is understaffed and would rather have someone to fill the gaps even though he has an abusive personality. Or, the hospital may hire an inappropriate physician because she has a good reputation and brings many patients into the system. Regardless, the behavior is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with accordingly. So, let’s go through some of the processes you need to complete to prevent this harassment again.
Engage Softly With Team Response
The last thing you want to do as a resident is fight fire with fire. If you continue to raise your voice and tussle with this attending, you are making a containable situation into a nuclear bomb! Instead, what is the appropriate course of action?
You can say to this individual quietly, “I am just trying to help you care for your patients appropriately. We are in this together. I will talk to you again when you speak to me professionally so we can help your patient together.” Usually, the raving physician calms down if you maintain a quiet and calm demeanor. At this point, the situation usually de-escalates. Who knows? You may even receive an apology. But that may or may not be the case.
Document, Document, Document
So, what next, assuming the situation does not calm down? If the surgeon has been harassing you, it is most likely a long-standing observable pattern of inappropriate behavior. And this physician has likely affected many other employees within the hospital as well. Therefore, you should document the behavior in written form. State the time, place, and situation as objectively as you can. Then, place the document on the side for further use, if necessary.
Next, you may want to ask other observers, if present, to create a supporting document. This report lends credence to your inappropriate interaction. You are better off gathering multiple documents to establish a pattern of behavior.
And finally, for each time you encounter these behaviors with this individual, you create another document. You are making a paper trail that will help remedy this situation.
Speak To Your Supervisor
As for the next step, you must contact your residency director or associate residency director first thing in the morning. Speak to them and give them the documentation. If possible, leave the wheeling and dealing in the hands of the local administration. Why? Well, often, the lowly resident does not have the influence upon human resources or senior administration like a long-standing faculty member does. And, the administration can turn back the blame on you.
Last Resort- Human Resources
OK. So, your supervisor has not yet fixed the situation. Or, maybe she settled it for that one time, but the abuse is recurrent. Where do you go next? Sometimes you have to go right for the horse’s mouth. You may need to talk directly to human resources and hand in the documentation yourself. Usually, this will begin a full investigation into the matter. Of course, hopefully, you can avoid this situation. Unfortunately, on occasion, you need to act to protect yourself in this way.
Final Thoughts About The Abusive Physician
We all went to medical school and began training to become consummate professionals. Along the way, unfortunately, you will encounter abusive physicians that do not follow these rules of professionalism. Often they have issues of their own. But that does not excuse the actions of these individuals. We, as clinicians, should act according to the rules of civil behavior. And if these abusive physicians cannot play by the rules, either they need to change their ways, or they should not be able to practice medicine. So, we serve all by taking action and not remaining silent.