Bullying rife for medics in academia

February 20, 2004

Doctors who hold academic research posts are regularly subjected to bullying at work, according to a new study, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The survey, which was published in the British Medical Journal this week, found that 40 per cent of medics who were engaged in research would not recommend their job to a colleague.

Lyn Quine, professor of health psychology at the University of Kent at Canterbury and a co-author of the research, said: "In the medical profession, bullying is often justified in terms of its educational value.

They say you shouldn't be in the kitchen if you can't stand the heat."

Professor Quine said the survey uncovered various forms of harassment. Some doctors complained of public humiliation and teasing from colleagues and managers. Others said they were hampered in their attempts to juggle research and clinical jobs, with supervisors setting unfeasible deadlines and then changing them at the last minute, or insisting that they worked long hours.

Professor Quine said such "destabilising behaviour" was often intended to destroy the victim's professional reputation.

The survey was based on 259 responses from academic doctors answering an online questionnaire.

Peter Maguire, a consultant in anaesthesia who worked as a representative for doctors on training posts in Northern Ireland, said that he had received many complaints of bullying from academic doctors, who were under pressure to meet clinical targets while also coping with the demands of research.

Dr Maguire explained: "Those in charge say, 'If you don't do what we want, we won't give you a reference'."

He said that although intimidation was a huge problem in hospitals, it was swept under the carpet because the victims were afraid to make an official complaint.

"Only the ones who are very strong speak out," he said. "The others just cave in as they know they need that reference to further their career."

Peter Dangerfield, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's medical academics committee, said he was saddened and appalled by the research results.

He said that the competitive research environment was an obvious breeding ground for bullying.

"A lot of people who do research are terribly self-centred individuals who can be pretty ruthless. I've been to academic conferences where you have never witnessed such spite. Peer review encourages this as well, unfortunately," he said.

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