The following response, by Dr Rita Pal, was published online by the BMJ in 2001. In the 20 years that have passed, including the rise of social media, has the medical profession learned to listen to, respect, and value those who are ‘different’?
WHEN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION SHUTS DOWN
In life, to all those who wonder into medicine, chatter at meetings about the latest research paper and lead a relatively uneventful life, bullying and harrassment is something that “could never happen to them”.
Human nature seeks acceptance from ones peers. To deviate from this norm and to be oneself is probably the most difficult thing for any doctor to do. There is a certain decorum to medicine. A certain “way” in which you are accepted by your boss, your colleagues. To be an outcast is something noone wishes upon themselves. Yet, amongst all of us there is that one doctor who has differing views or perhaps wears glasses and sits quietly and does not indulge in the banter of normal topics. There is always that one person who may be rather different from the norm. For whatever reason, bullying and harrassment commonly occurs to people who for whatever reason find themselves disliked by the team or their colleagues.
Human nature is one where the majority will follow like sheep and so bullying becomes a domino effect. For any of you interested, my name can be searched through google to find that I have been in an environment where the team has bullied and harrassed me to the point where my life was made miserable by a few people. Nothing I did made the matter better. In my case, I wrote poetry that was “not the normal vocation for a junior doctor”. Surgeons would poke fun and question my ability to perform. Rumours would fly around about the distinct form of worded poetry I wrote. And so the scenario began where the domino effect escalated to such an extent that it was intolerable to stay any longer. I happened to be different from many doctors, I happen to be a different person. It is most interesting that my poetry was correlated to me having a “nervous breakdown” by my colleagues. I was actually shopping in the Trafford Centre that weekend they spread rumours about my admission to some psychiatric unit. The problem with petty rumours even petty harrassment is that life can be made unbearable. Usually, your colleagues will not support you but walk away to the other side. I have a thick skin and have never really cared what people thought. This is not possessed by many people.
There are many who crumble under the pressure. They suffer in silence and although none of us realise as colleagues how that person is suffering, they may well be extremely unhappy. I knew a medical student who threw himself off the tenth floor due to bulling by his fellow students because he was from a “poorer background”.
In summary, whatever we all do, our colleagues in our workplace may be a victim. The easier choice is to protect ones self. The correct choice is to support our colleagues and friends.
Dr Rita Pal