Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Bullying in the Australian medical workforce: cross-sectional data from an Australian e-Cohort study

Deborah A. Askew A F , Philip J. Schluter B , Marie-Louise Dick A , Patricia M. Régo C , Catherine Turner D and David Wilkinson E
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Discipline of General Practice, University of Queensland, Herston, QLD 4072, Australia. Email: m.dick@uq.edu.au

B Department of Public Health and General Practice, University of Otago, Oxford Terrace, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. Email: Philip.schluter@otago.ac.nz

C Discipline of Medical Education, The University of Queensland, Herston, QLD 4072, Australia. Email: p.rego@uq.edu.au

D School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Queensland, Herston, QLD 4072, Australia. Email: c.turner@uq.edu.au

E School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Herston, QLD 4072, Australia. Email: d.wilkinson@uq.edu.au

F Corresponding author. Email: d.askew@uq.edu.au

Australian Health Review 36(2) 197-204 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH11048
Submitted: 20 May 2011  Accepted: 21 September 2011   Published: 25 May 2012

Abstract

Objective. This study aimed to describe the prevalence of perceived workplace bullying in the Australian medical workforce, and investigate the relationship between workplace bullying and job satisfaction, health status, and current and planned medical workforce participation.

Methods. An electronic cross-sectional survey of doctors currently in the paid workforce, conducted between April 2008 and October 2009, was nested within a longitudinal cohort study investigating factors affecting the recruitment and retention of the Australian medical workforce. To address the specific aims of this study, a subset of questions in the survey investigated the prevalence of self-reported bullying; physical and mental health; workforce participation patterns; job satisfaction; and job stressors.

Results. Seven hundred and forty-seven participants responded to the bullying question and were included in this analysis. Twenty-five percent of participants reported being bullied in the last 12 months. There were no differences in the reported rates of bullying across age groups, sex and country of medical qualification. Bullied doctors were least satisfied with their jobs (P < 0.001), had taken more sick leave in the last 12 months (P < 0.001), and were more likely to be planning to decrease the number of hours worked in medicine in the next 12 months (P = 0.01) or ceasing direct patient care in the next 5 years (independent of their age or the number of hours currently worked in patient care) (P = 0.006).

Conclusions. Our findings suggest that Australian doctors, independent of age or sex, have experienced workplace bullying, and although no conclusions can be made about causal pathways, there were strong associations between this exposure and poorer health and wellbeing, and on remaining in the medical workforce.

What is known about the topic? Bullying and harassment have a significant impact on mental health, job satisfaction, and intention to leave the workforce. Workplace bullying in healthcare organisations affects the individuals involved, the organisations and the patients. The prevalence of workplace bullying throughout the medical workforce in Australia or elsewhere has not been investigated, with previous studies focussing on subsets of doctors, particularly junior doctors.

What does this paper add? This paper found that 25% of doctors participating in this study reported experiencing persistent behaviours in the last 12 months that had undermined their professional confidence or self-esteem. There were no differences in the prevalence of bullying observed between sexes, age groups, country of medical qualifications, or employment sector. Victims of bullying had poorer mental health, had taken more sick leave in the last 12 months, were less satisfied with their current jobs and with being doctors, were more affected by job stressors and were more likely to be considering ceasing direct patient care than non-bullied doctors.

What are the implications for practitioners? Practitioners need to be alert for potential bullying and harassment within healthcare organisations and be prepared to act decisively to minimise its impact on staff health, satisfaction and retention, and patient quality of care.


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