Question About Disrespect From A Surgical Attending
Hello, I am a radiology resident berated by a surgeon with disrespect in the reading room in front of my colleagues and attendings. An outpatient had imaging findings of small bowel obstruction. I sent a secure electronic message via EMR to the aforementioned surgical attending who ordered the CT scan, an unexpected result that could potentially affect management. I did it out of courtesy even though the hospital policy does not include this as a critical diagnosis that radiologists need to convey immediately. My radiology attending signed the report a couple of hours after I had sent the message.
However, the surgery attending did not see the message/report until later that afternoon and started to ask me via chat if I had contacted the patient or another surgeon. As per my hospital policy, I did not do that because this is not a clinical diagnosis requiring immediate notification to the clinical team, such as a stroke or pulmonary embolism. The surgery attending took the time to come to the reading room soon after. First, he asked me if I was a resident or an attending; when I answered that I was a resident, the surgery attending started to yell at me for not reporting a critical finding directly. He made it sound like the patient was going to the OR urgently (at the conversation time).
Surgical Attending Disrespect, Exaggeration, And Bluster
Furthermore, he was threatening me that the patient could have died due to the delay in communication. Later, I found out that the surgery attending had already spoken with the patient on the phone. The patient felt perfectly fine/refused to go to the ER and would wait until Monday to go to the clinic (documented in the EMR). Even though we caused no harm to the patient, the surgery attending was very contentious. He made a public scene and stated that I did not do enough to communicate this finding in the middle of the reading room.
Also, if I had not messaged, the surgery attending may not have found out about the SBO until after the weekend, as the patient felt perfectly normal. The surgery attending cared more about displaying her power over a resident. Her display of power was not for resident education. Is a new SBO on an outpatient a critical enough finding to call the patient directly or attempt to reach the inpatient surgical consult within minutes? What do you think is the best course of action to combat what I perceive as bullying and disrespect? Thank you for listening to my long story.
There are two main issues in your question. First, let’s first start with the facts about small bowel obstruction. Second, I will discuss the reasons for this public display of power and disrespect and the right course of action.
A Little Bit About Small Bowel Obstructions
Small bowel obstructions without other emergent ancillary findings such as portal venous gas, pneumatosis, free air, bowel wall thickening, SMA thrombus, free fluid, or focal fluid collections are typically managed clinically and are not “emergent.” As your hospital policy dictates, this reason is why radiologists do not usually have to make a phone call to the surgeon at your institution. And, you did more than required by sending the text message.
Additionally, if you are talking about a plain film diagnosis, these findings are even less specific. I can’t tell you how often I have seen a plain film with dilated bowel loops and air-fluid levels. Then, we get a CT scan, only to see not much happening. A CT scan is a lot more specific for the diagnosis but is by no means perfect.
Nevertheless, in a pure small bowel obstruction without complication, our role is less diagnostic than management-related. Usually, the surgeon wants to know if it is better, worse, or unchanged. This decision tree, along with the surgeon’s clinical assessment, should factor into the equation of whether they need to pursue the case/management further. The surgeon’s responsibility is to look at the plain film or CT scan with or without the radiologist and decide if further steps are necessary. This role is regardless of however the radiologist reads the study.
More About The Surgeon And What To Do
Based on your story, I suspect that the surgeon is at fault for negligence with the patient. And, I believe that the surgeon is transferring her inadequacies onto you. In my history of dealing with surgeons, the least confident ones unnecessarily tend to take their anger out on others. Unfortunately, you were a target because you are “lower” in the hospital hierarchy. This surgeon is trying to feel better about her faults by displaying her power over you.
If this bullying recurs or you feel that it was egregious, I would refer the case to your faculty in a situation like this. It is wholly unprofessional to berate and disrespect anyone in the middle of a public forum such as a reading room. I don’t care if it is a janitor, technologist, resident, or attending.
Also, it would help if you precisely documented what happened with any other witnesses. That way, it takes the situation to a faculty level with some objective facts. The attending staff can then can decide to talk to the surgeon based on the case. Unfortunately, as a resident, you are not in a position to reprimand or talk back to the surgeon.
On the other hand, your faculty can undoubtedly do so. This way, it should not happen again. And, maybe the institution can change this surgeon’s inappropriate behavior.
I would be very interested to know what you have decided to do,
Barry Julius, MD