Canadian Medical Association

It is an unfortunate reality that bullying, intimidation and harassment continue to plague medical culture. With more and more physicians and medical learners coming forward to share their experiences, the issue is finally being acknowledged as a matter of professionalism across all career stages in medicine. 

In a 2011 survey of more than 800 physicians, nearly 75% said they heard colleagues yell, refuse to cooperate with others or make degrading comments within the past month.

Research from the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that such mistreatment is associated with burnout and suicidal ideation among some physicians.

Bullying can also lead to greater stress and decreased wellbeing among residents and trainees.

These negative outcomes ultimately put patient safety at risk and lead to higher health care costs. 

Health care leaders play a key role in resolving conflicts

Conflicts can arise between physicians and other health care workers if disputes are not managed well — for example, over issues related to patient care, working conditions, compensation, office space, support or personality differences. 

As a health care leader, you need to be able to recognize conflicts or inappropriate behaviours and then take effective action.

The resources on this page can help you discover how other health care organizations have handled conflict management and prevention.  

Dealing with online harassment

Physicians and medical learners have always played an important role as health advocates. This role has continued to evolve in the Internet age: many physicians are now using various social media platforms to share scientific knowledge, advance evidence-based positions and advocate for the public’s health and wellness. This work is sometimes met with abusive behaviour from social media users. Unfortunately, the frequency and intensity of online attacks have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as physicians, medical learners and other health care professionals have become the target of online harassment and threats of violence.

In a study* released by JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2021, nearly one-quarter of physicians surveyed reported being personally attacked on social media in 2019. Those who experienced harassment consistently reported emotional distress and fear.

Here are some guidelines on managing online abusive behaviour (adapted from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta):

If you’re experiencing abuse or harassment online:

  • Keep a log with all details surrounding the abuse or harassment, including the date, time and screenshots of the behaviour.
  • Do not engage with the individual. The individual is probably looking for a reaction and engaging could fuel them further.
  • Mute the individual. Most social media and online platforms give you the option to mute individuals. When you do this, you will no longer see their content but they will still be able to see your content, visit your profile and possibly send you direct messages.
  • Block the individual. This will prevent the user from contacting you through the platform on which you blocked them.
  • Report the individual. Depending on the situation and the platform, reporting an individual can result in their post being removed or their account possibly being suspended or deleted from the platform.

Other considerations:

  • Sometimes people will create new or multiple accounts to harass someone. If this happens to you, continue to block and report the accounts that are abusing or harassing you.
  • If someone is threatening you or others in your life, you should contact local law enforcement to seek further advice and guidance.

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