One in three trainee doctors in Australia have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination in the past 12 months, but just a third have reported it.
That’s according to a national survey of almost 10,000 trainee doctors released today by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
The results of the survey, co-developed by the Medical Board of Australia (MBA), send a “loud message” about bullying and harassment to those in the medical profession, said MBA chair Anne Tonkin.
“It is incumbent on all of us to heed it,” Dr Tonkin said.
“We must do this if we are serious about improving the culture of medicine.”
Bullying and harassment among junior doctors and medical students has become an issue of increasing concern in recent years.
In 2016, a Senate inquiry heard gender discrimination and “teaching by humiliation” had become ingrained into the culture of the medical profession.
More recently, researchers warned pervasive bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment in Australian hospitals was putting patients at risk.
Last year, several major Sydney hospitals were barred from training junior doctors amid allegations of bullying and exploitation.
“Bullying, harassment and discrimination are not good for patient safety, constructive learning or the culture of medicine,” Dr Tonkin said.
“We must all redouble our efforts to strengthen professional behaviour and deal effectively with unacceptable behaviour.”
Despite concerns, most doctors recommend training
Despite concerns about bullying or harassment, trainee doctors in Australia generally rated their medical training highly.
Overall, 78 per cent of trainees said they would recommend their current training to other doctors, and 76 per cent would recommend their current workplace as a place to train.
Teaching sessions were rated as “excellent” or “very good” by 80 per cent of survey respondents.
When it came to working hours, three quarters of trainees reported working 40 or more hours on average per week, while one in eight reported working at least 60 hours on average per week.
Half of all the doctors surveyed considered their workload “heavy” or “very heavy”.
Last year, the case of an aspiring Sydney surgeon, whose “untenable” hours led to health problems before she quit, ignited outrage about the hours worked by junior doctors, and prompted an investigation into trainee work conditions.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Tony Bartone said safe working hours were still an issue for the profession.
“This is particularly worrying given the clear recent Australian research showing that doctors in training who work more than 55 hours each week have double the risk of developing mental health problems and suicidal ideation,” Dr Bartone said.
“The survey shows the pressure that trainees continue to work under.”
Medical bodies welcome report
Both the AMA and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) welcomed the report and the high proportion of trainee doctors who rated the quality of their training and supervision highly.
“The Medical Training Survey has, overall, reinforced the quality and reputation of Australia’s world class system of medical education,” Dr Bartone said.
However, Dr Bartone said the whole medical profession needed to work together to address long hours, bullying and harassment, and to ensure medical training in Australia was a safe and rewarding experience.
“Trainees deserve and should expect such a workplace — nothing less,” he said.
The survey found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander trainee doctors were nearly twice as likely to have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment and discrimination.
It also found that among trainees who experienced or witnessed bullying harassment or discrimination and reported it, just half of them had their report followed up.
RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon agreed that more needed to be done to stamp out bullying and discrimination.
“The bottom line is that bullying, discrimination and harassment don’t belong in any workplace,” he said.