Medicine: How About a Bit More Empowerment for Junior Doctors?

Medicine: How About a Bit More Empowerment for Junior Doctors?

It’s pretty clear how our readers in Missouri and elsewhere would uniformly respond to a question asking whether they would prefer to work for an explosive and bullying boss or someone they felt they could candidly address without risking a condescending response or curt dismissal.

The same answer — I’ll take a rain check on the bully, please — readily applies across virtually every industry, of course, including the medical profession, where authoritarian and abrasive behavior appears to be a bit of a problem.

At least that is the decided conclusion of a recent medical study from Canada, which is certainly close enough to the United States in its medical norms and processes to make a close look at the research findings a useful exercise.

The findings are notable, indeed. Forty-nine resident doctors were asked candid questions about authoritarian behavior in the medical sphere and whether they ever felt intimidated by it to the point where they didn’t challenge questionable medical goings-on.

Centrally, that would include things like seeing a senior doctor make a mistake in diagnosis, during surgery, with a medication and so forth.

Many of the doctor-in-training respondents pointed to a culture marked by abusive behavior toward subordinates and their corresponding unwillingness to challenge authority to make a point, even if it referred to patient safety.

As stated in a media report on the study, many study participants told researchers “that fear and intimidation kept them from questioning the doctors overseeing them.”

How absolutely frightening is that from the standpoint of patient outcomes?

One study commentator, a prominent anesthetist, noted after reviewing the study that “it does really make you sit up and pay attention.”

Perhaps it will make leaders in the medical industry sit up and make changes. If patients are at heightened risk because many junior doctors don’t feel empowered to question or challenge more senior physicians, changes indeed need to be made.

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