Labour pains as student midwives are bullied

August 6, 2009

Student midwives are being bullied by lecturers, tutors and senior midwives, according to new research.

A five-year study carried out by researchers at the University of Ulster and Trinity College Dublin states that bullying is a common problem in the profession.

The research, published in the Evidence Based Midwifery journal, finds that more than half the UK student midwives questioned had been badly treated in their place of work.

Other midwives, lecturers and even personal tutors were involved in the intimidation.

Respondents spoke of feeling degraded and ridiculed. One had been spoken to in a derogatory manner: "The incident ... cast a shadow over my experience and I felt nervous going to work."

Others claimed that they did not receive enough support from their lecturers and tutors.

One describes "a patriarchal and bullying culture at the university".

The bullied students report increased anxiety and a lack of confidence and self-esteem as a result of their experiences.

The researchers recommend that the profession should bolster its awareness of bullying and make it clear that it is unacceptable.

"Bullying has a detrimental and long-lasting effect on midwives, student midwives, the profession of midwifery and the organisation," the study says.

Marlene Sinclair, professor of midwifery at Ulster's School of Nursing, said the profession needed to "face up to the fear that surrounds this phenomenon and take a proactive approach, which clearly labels bullying as unacceptable behaviour".

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it was aware that some bullying took place within the profession and added that it was working with nurses and academics to eradicate the problem.

Sue MacDonald, education and research manager at the RCM, said: "With any big organisation, and the National Health Service and higher education are huge organisations, there is going to be bullying somewhere.

"We can see bullying happening at different levels within education and practice. We are very keen to raise awareness and address it through education."

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