Report finds a ‘toxic learning environment’ in medicine

by L&D02 Aug 2016
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) and the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association (NZMSA) are just two of the organisations speaking out against bullying in the medical profession.

Now, new research by the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) has found that only 32% of victims of bullying and harassment are taking action.

The study was revealed at the National Centre Against Bullying conference in Melbourne. It also found that 60% of 519 students were victims or witnessed bullying in hospitals and universities within the medical profession in 2015.

The research also highlighted that the behaviour was perpetuated by some students who sought to "weed out the weak", according to AMSA president Elise Buisson.

“But there’s plenty of evidence to show that ... instead, it makes students anxious, drives them to avoid the toxic learning environment, and prevents them from retaining what they’re being taught,” Buisson was quoted as saying by The Herald Sun.

She added that cultural reform was essential for the medical profession, and hospitals and universities must work together to arrange better reporting mechanisms.

L&D Professional recently reported that the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has launched mandatory education on discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment for all fellows, trainees and international medical graduates.

The training involves an e-learning module developed "for surgeons, by surgeons", and is designed to help them identify discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

The training forms part of the RACS ‘Let’s Operate With Respect’ campaign, which is a "call to action" for the 7,000 surgeons and 1,300 trainees and international medical graduates in Australia and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association has acknowledged that there is progress being made against bullying in the medical profession.

The NZMSA President Mike Fleete said that medical students are vulnerable to bullying in hospitals because of the “power imbalance that can exist. However, recent changes are beginning to see this improve”.

NZMSA cited the introduction of compulsory anti-bullying training by RACS as “one of a host of measures being taken throughout medicine to combat bullying”.

Moreover, the Universities of Otago and Auckland are developing easier ways to report incidents and create positive learning environments, while the NZ Ministry of Health has set up a working group to combat bullying.

“The efforts of individual doctors and many of the professional bodies in New Zealand are beginning to make positive changes for medical students and we want to acknowledge the impact they are having,” said Fleete.

“It is however essential that we keep the momentum up. This is an ingrained issue and we can only resolve it if we all stand together.”

The NZMSA also acknowledged the leadership shown by the RACS, and called on all professional bodies to take decisive action on bullying, harassment and developing positive learning environments.

Related stories:

Surgeons getting training on bullying, sexual harassment