From the Journals

Bullying in academic medicine rife, underreported


Multiple deterrents

Thirty-one studies (n = 15,868) described characteristics of the bullies and showed the most common to be consultants (53.6% [30 studies]), residents (22% [22 studies]), and nurses (14.9% [21 studies]).

Only a minority of victims (28.9% of 9,410 victims [10 studies]) formally reported the bullying. The researchers identified multiple deterrents to reporting.

When a formal complaint was submitted (n = 1,139 respondents), it most frequently had no perceived effect (35.6%); more than one-fifth (21.9%) experienced worsening of the bullying, and only 13.7% reported improvement.

The common institutional facilitators of bullying, described in 25 studies, included lack of enforcement of anti-bullying policies (13 studies), the hierarchical structure of medicine (7 studies), and normalization of bullying (10 studies).

Forty-nine studies looked at strategies to address academic bullying, including anti-bullying policies, mandatory workshops on mistreatment, establishing an anti-bullying oversight committee, and institutional support for victims. However, the studies testing the effectiveness of these interventions “had a high risk of bias.”

Support available

Commenting on the research for this news organization, Roberta Gebhard, DO, past president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and a member of the advisory board for Physician Just Equity, called it a “good study, large, international, and well-written.”

Dr. Gebhard, a member of the Governing Council for the American Medical Association Women Physician Section, was not associated with this study but said she is currently researching women who left medical school and residency.

“A common reason for leaving is being bullied. Bullying is often not reported and if reported, often not addressed. Or, if addressed, the person who reports it is often retaliated against, which is a common experience, especially in women.”

She advised female physicians who are bullied to get support from other female physicians – for example, by joining the AMWA, which has an online women’s leadership group.

“Having other women physicians throughout the country you can call for advice and support can be helpful,” said Dr. Gebhard, a family practice physician based in Grand Island, New York.

Dr. Van Spall receives support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Women As One Escalator Award, and McMaster Department of Medicine. The study authors and Dr. Gebhard have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on


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