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About 14 per cent of internal medicine residents reports some form of bullying during residency training, according to a paper published today in JAMA.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center pooled data from 21,212 U.S.-based trainees who took the 2016 certification exam. Some form of bullying was reported from 13.6 per cent of the respondents.

Among the participants who perceived being bullied:

  • 80 per cent reported verbal harassment;
  • 25 per cent reported “other” or “uncategorized” forms of harassment;
  • 5.3 per cent reported physical harassment; and
  • 3.6 per cent reported sexual harassment.

About 31 per cent say they sought help to deal with the issue.

Burnout and worsened performance (impacting 57 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively) were the most common consequences of the bullying followed by depression at 27 per cent.

“Bullying during medical education can have negative consequences that range from the well-being of the trainees to compromised patient care,” reads an excerpt from the paper.

“…. Although the results suggest that bullying during residency was associated with certain characteristics … a better understanding of how residents experience bullying and the learning contexts in which it occurs is needed.”

For the paper, researchers defined “bullying” as “harassment that occurs repeatedly (>once) by an individual in a position of greater power.”

Certain characteristics more closely associated with bullying

According to the paper, some characteristics were more closely associated with perceived bullying, including:

  • Speaking a native language other than English;
  • Being in a higher postgraduate year level;
  • Being an international medical graduate; and
  • Performing lower on the internal medicine certification exam.

Perceptions of bullying

“Bullying” can be a vague term and the study’s authors concede its definition may be interpreted differently by each participant.

“However,” the paper says, “the bullying estimates in this study most likely represent an underestimate of mistreatment because less consequential hassling or microaggressions by superiors and harassment by those of equal or less power would not have been counted.”

“Taking steps to eliminate bullying is essential to ensure supportive learning environments that will promote the professional development of all medical trainees.”

Read more about the study here.