You probably already know that physicians are often disrespectful towards nurses. But, you probably don't know the true extent of the problem. A study conducted in 2013 showed that 84% of nurses encountered some sort of disrespectful behavior from a physician during the prior year. Even worse, 71% of those nurses had been the recipient of condescending or demeaning comments and insults from a physician. As a nurse, there is a good chance that you have been a victim of such workplace abuse. This behavior may be so commonplace that you have become accustomed to it. However, the fact of the matter is that you deserve better, and your patients deserve better. This study conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices provides the scary truth about the extent of the problem and the long-term effects on the quality of patient care.
An astounding 57% of the surveyed nurses said that they have endured yelling, cursing, outbursts, and/or verbal threats. While these statistics focus on the negative side of the physician-nurse relationship, and fail to highlight the physicians who are able to conduct themselves in a professional manner, these numbers are still way too high. This behavior is inexcusable from a professional standpoint and the results of this behavior can be life-threatening for patients. Even though so much is at risk, why does it continue? The answer for this question lies on the side of the facility management. When it comes to fair and equal management of staff members, many facilities are failing miserably. They seem more interested in preserving the physician's ego, rather than offering the best possible medical care. It is well known amongst nurses that a double standard exists between them and physicians. Most nurses will say that they must always protect their licenses from even the slightest mistake, while doctors never seem to get reprimanded for their actions. This double standard for nurses is affecting healthcare greatly. Until nurses feel comfortable reporting unprofessional behavior to their management without the fear of placing their license at risk, this epidemic will continue and will worsen.
Tensions between nurses and physicians are nothing new. This situation stems back to the late 60's when the role of the nurse was considered similar to a housewife of the time. When nurses began progressing from the apprenticeship model in hospitals to the university setting, the role of the nurse began to progress. Many physicians did not like the new direction, where nurses began to carry more decision-making abilities. The nurse of today finds herself as the backbone of the medical industry. Yet, most nurses receive very little recognition or respect for their pivotal role in the medical industry.
Whether medical staff members realize it or not, this tension between nurses and physicians has a direct effect on the quality of care provided to patients. This is where the results of the survey become frightening. It shows that 39% of nurses felt pressure to accept an order, dispense a product, or administer a drug, despite concerns about safety. It also found that 33% of nurses would rather assume that an order is correct, rather than interact with a particular prescriber who may be abusive. These statistics are unacceptable. It seems as though the nurses who were surveyed felt so intimidated, that they would rather place the life of their patient and the status of their license at risk to avoid interacting with the prescribing physician.
While only 50% of the responding nurses said their organization has a process in effect for handling disagreements, some are taking an active approach towards handling the problem. For example, a hospital in New Brunswick, Canada, has a "Code Pink" alerting others in the area that nurse bullying is in effect and backup is needed. This strategy is a step in the right direction. However, until doctors are willing to consider nurses as medical complimentaries, rather than subordinates, not much will change.
While many situations in the medical field can come with high stress levels, it usually is not the first time staff members have been exposed to this type of atmosphere. For now, it seems as though nurse bullying will typically go unexcused. Only when facility management can find a way to hold all staff members equally accountable for their actions, will this problem begin to disappear.
In the meantime, if you are fed up with disrespectful behavior from physicians, you should know there are other career options where you can receive much more respect for your expertise.