Let’s Call A Dick A Dick

English: "No Swearing" sign along At...

English: “No Swearing” sign along Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, fall is a time of reflection and contemplation. I don’t know why fall has such an effect on me, but nine out of twelve job changes have occurred during the fall. While dusting off my resume recently, I looked back and thought about how lucky I am that I can count the number of disruptive physicians I’ve worked with on one hand.

Disruptive physician is code for doctors who are dicks. Whether it’s the surgeon who picked up a nurse manager and put her down in a sink or the neurosurgeon who had to be removed from the Operating Room by the police after flipping out when his request to use unsterilized instruments on a patient was ignored. Some doctors believe they can act in ways that would get them punched or arrested in the real world, but in the hospital, they can do no wrong.

The problem is so pervasive that in 2009  The Joint Commission, a voluntary accreditation agency for hospitals, started requiring hospitals to have standards in place and procedures to deal with disruptive behavior, including physician disruptive behavior.

Unfortunately, some physicians believe there is an ulterior motive to disruptive behavior policies. In 2008  American Medical News.com has these two quotes:

“If somebody’s not a ‘team player,’ individuals will try to remove them from the team, and the disruptive physician policy is one mechanism by which that can be done,” said Dr. Gregory, a general surgeon and trustee at the Muskogee Regional Medical Center in Oklahoma

Interesting perspective. I’ve just never worked in a hospital that targets well-mannered, kind, respectful physicians who aren’t team players.  Oh, unless not being a team player is a code word for a doctor who’s a dick.

During my nursing career, I’ve had a surgeon approach me in the nurse’s station and loudly yell that it was my job to fill out the preoperative consent and, when I refused, accused me of doing it for the other surgeon.  He thought the nurses played favorites.  Luckily that was at a hospital where our policy was to laugh at dicks in person and hang up on them when they called. Really.

I’ve also had a specialist scream at me in a hallway because no one told him I would be observing in the clinic he worked in that day. He (not the owner of the clinic, just another hospital employee) didn’t think anyone should be allowed in the clinic without his permission. Every time I tried to (politely) interrupt, he yelled louder until I walked away.

Did these doctors suffer any ill consequences from their dickish actions? No. Most hospitals will forgive physicians who bring in business. Sort of like your top used car salesman. If he sexually harasses the secretary, do you really want to lose him to keep her?

Instead of trying to get rid of disruptive physicians, most hospital administrators would rather keep the doctor. Even when there are multiple complaints. Even in the face of staff turnover. Even when patients get hurt because of the doctor’s behavior.

When doctors whine, yell, threaten and bully other healthcare workers with questions or concerns, those questions and concerns are going to dry up. Pretty soon no one’s going to be calling them in the middle of the night to deal with a rapidly deteriorating patient because no one wants to take the verbal abuse. Rapid response teams were formulated because too many patients died while physicians blew off concerned hospital staff and family members.  That’s why in a hospital with three wrong side brain surgeries, no neurosurgeons lost their jobs. Instead the nurses were told not to give the scalpel to the surgeon until he verified he was on the right side or the nurse would be punished. When that didn’t work, they hired staff to go into operating rooms and monitor that doctors were properly identifying the correct side.

There is a price to be paid for healthcare’s refusal to address the problem of disruptive physician behavior and the price is paid every day by patients as well as by the people who leave healthcare careers. I think that calling the problem what it is might be a step in the right direction.

Let’s call a dick a dick.