Student Doctor Verbally Abused Me

Question:

I’m a nurse who was verbally abused by a student doctor while we were on duty. What should I do?

Signed,

Seeking Assistance


Answer:

Dear Seeking Assistance:

What you do will depend upon the totality of the situation and what you mean by verbally abusive. Your main options are to go to your supervisor about it, talk to the doctor directly about it, avoid working around him, or find a way to reduce contact with him and be certain not to give him an excuse for his mean behavior. If he does it again, you certainly should go to your supervisor or manager.

I tend to think he should be made aware by someone, if not you, that his behavior was demoralizing, demeaning and harmful for the situation since medical work requires cooperation not conflict.

One thing that will help you will be to write down exactly what he said and how he said it as well as the total situation and any witnesses. That way, if you do talk to your supervisor or director/manager, you’ll have specifics for them to consider.

At the same time, be certain that his reactions were genuinely abusive (foul language, a threatening tone, yelling, repeated verbal attacks, etc.) and not just angry or critical of something you did. That is especially true if he was angry about a serious mistake.

We receive many letters about the rude treatment of nurses and medical staff by doctors, including doctors in training. It would seem that a medical training facility would be on the alert for such out-of-control behavior, but apparently that is a low priority in many cases.

On the other hand, we receive many letters from nurses and medical staff who complain about coworkers who are rude and unprofessional. So, unfortunately unpleasantness happens at all levels.

There may not be much that can be done to permanently stop the doctor’s offensive behavior. But, you can at least find ways to protect yourself emotionally by focusing on the best part of work and the people who deserve your support. The doctor in training won’t be there forever and you can only hope that as he matures he gains character and compassion. But, for that to happen, he needs to be made aware that what he said to you (if he said things that were demeaning and hurtful) showed neither character nor compassion, even if he felt justified in it.

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe