Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders doctors in training were nearly twice as likely to report being targeted or witnessing bullying, harassment and discrimination.
The rate of bullying and harassment documented in the Medical Board of Australia’s first national Medical Training Survey was not good news for patients or the medical profession, the board’s chairwoman Anne Tonkin said.
“We must redouble our efforts to strengthen professional behaviour and deal effectively with unacceptable behaviour,” Dr Tonkin said in a statement on Monday.
Hash Abdeen, deputy chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of Doctors in Training, said hospitals needed to stop paying lip service to zero-tolerance policies and to take action to hold bullies to account and to protect junior doctors.
“We are talking about the health and safety of doctors and patients,” Dr Abdeen said. “We know there can be a flow-on effect for patient safety. Governments and institutions need to take ownership of that.”
But he said the hierarchical structure of medicine hampered progress to remedy the “endemic culture of bullying and harassment” when the harassment was often perpetrated by supervisors or other senior staff.
“There is a real fear to report against seniors who are in charge of their training, marking assessments and [holding] a lot of power over their career progression and their future in medicine.
“We’re seeing people quitting because the environment is so toxic. When that happens, the community suffers as well,” Dr Abdeen said.
The national survey confirmed the findings of several alarming state and territory-based reports including the 2019 NSW Hospital Health Check Survey in which 40 per cent of junior doctors said they had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination from other staff members and 57 per cent believed they would suffer negative consequences if they reported the inappropriate behaviour.
The NSW survey also found two-thirds of junior doctors working in NSW hospitals were so exhausted they were worried they would make a medical mistake that could potentially harm their patients, or they would come to harm themselves.
The national survey found 78 per cent of respondents reported they would recommend their current training position to other doctors and 76 per cent would recommend their current workplace.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.