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Doctors Behaving Badly: Enough

The Joint Commission, the accreditation body that certifies hospitals, has had enough of doctors’ bad behavior and the hospitals who tolerate them.

They have required hospitals they accredit to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward bad behavior from staff, which must include a code of conduct and a way of disciplining offenders.

Why is any of this necessary?

Because virtually every hospital has had at one time the angry surgeon who yells at his operating room (OR) team (or worse) when the tiniest thing goes wrong. Today’s Boston Globe has the story:

During an operation at a Salem hospital last summer, an orthopedic surgeon [Dr. Murray Goodman], frustrated by a pair of scissors that wouldn’t cut, threw them and narrowly missed a nurse.

[… Describing another doctor’s bad behavior:] The last straw: He threw two 10-pound sandbags, used to position a patient’s arm, to the operating room floor; one hit a nurse’s foot, according to the board.

Yes, we get it — you’re operating on someone and you have their lives in your hands. But that’s no reason to suddenly treat others with disrespect. And start throwing things, like a 5 year old engaged in a temper tantrum. How unprofessional!

Anger, like most emotions, is a choice we’ve learned to make through certain thoughts and repeated behaviors. If it’s a doctor’s natural reaction to stress, then he’s going to have to unlearn that reaction and re-learn how to deal with people he works with in a respectful and polite manner.

Sadly, hospitals feel like they have no reason to share their discpline procedures with the other staff. So when a doctor is disciplined, nobody knows exactly what happens. Did he just get a stern talking-to, or was he warned that if it happens again, he gets the boot? Nobody knows.

O’Connell said nurses were frustrated because they felt the hospital was slow to take action – and when the hospital did discipline Goodman, administrators would not tell nurses the details. Dr. Marc Rubin, who implemented the civility policy when he became chairman of the surgery department two years ago, said the specifics of the discipline are confidential.

I understand the need for confidentiality when it comes to personnel issues, but the people who the bad behavior was directed at should be informed about what happened. When a kid gets beaten up in the schoolyard, he finds out what happened to the kid who beat him up. When a doctor is disciplined by a medical board, it becomes public record if his license is suspended or revoked.

Transparency is at the core of this issue. Since hospitals have long since protected such doctors, it’s time for them to become more transparent in this process, to protect not only patients’ safety, but also fellow staffers.

Read the full article: Hospitals try to calm doctors’ outbursts

Why are surgeons this way? Check out Maggie Mahar’s in-depth explanation, Surgeons and Other Physicians: A Cultural Divide

Doctors Behaving Badly: Enough

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Doctors Behaving Badly: Enough. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Aug 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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