Is Your Doctor Bullying You?

How to deal with a medical bully.

Most doctors care deeply about their patients and treat them with respect, but there are some who seem to forget that they're dealing with another human being when you enter their office.

Not only do they bully patients, but they also bully other medical professionals, like nurses and other doctors.

Signs of a Bully

A single curt response doesn't mean your doctor is a bully. However, bullies may use different tactics on their victims. If you notice the following problems are happening all the time, then you may be dealing with a bully.

Bullies often:

  • Have abusive, physical, and violent behavior
  • Refuse to take responsibility for their actions
  • Show arrogance and self-righteousness
  • Lack any sympathy or empathy

Doctors who are bullies frequently display the behaviors above and also:

  • Refuse to listen to their patients or answer questions
  • Have serious problems getting along with other staff
  • Refuse to send their patients to referrals, even if it's necessary
  • Intimidate, threaten, or coerce patients
  • Show violent behavior toward staff, such as throwing instruments at them
  • Don't respect patients or staff

A Global Bullying Problem

Bullying in the medical field is an international problem. For instance, Dr. Malcolm Gerald was accused of bullying patients and staff in Gloucestershire, England. One patient claimed the doctor made derogatory comments about a family member's weight and job. Another patient claimed she was bullied by him over how she managed her child's eczema. Although Dr. Gerald was cleared during an investigation and retired, both patients and staff came forward with stories of intimidation, bullying, and disrespect.

Working in the medical field can be stressful, overwhelming, and exhausting. Even doctors have bad days that lead to short tempers and hurtful remarks. However, when patients usually report that they're being bullied by doctors, they're acknowledging a pattern of abuse over a long period of time.

Bullying Among Staff

When doctors bully each other and staff, it can have a negative impact on patient care. A survey of 4,500 health care workers found that 77% had seen disruptive behavior in doctors, and 71% shared that this led to medical errors. Disruptive behavior can include angry outbursts, intimidation, or bullying. The survey respondents mentioned that this often created poor communication among staff, which made patients dissatisfied and even jeopardized their well-being.

Bullying is also a problem in medical school. Dr. Mikkael A. Sekeres explains, "Bullying involves an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim: in our case, between a fellow or staff physician and a resident or medical student. It occurs repeatedly over time."

What to Do About Bullying

Before you report bullying by a doctor, consider if it's part of a long-term pattern of disruptive or abusive behavior or just a one-time rude comment. If it's an ongoing problem, then tell their superiors or hospital administrators. Another option is to report the incidents to the state medical licensing boards. Of course, you'll also want to find another doctor or office to receive care.