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When doctors are allowed to mistreat nurses, patient care suffers

One of the amazing opportunities that comes with being in a hospital is being cared for by a whole team of medical professionals. Patients may officially have just one or two doctors making big decisions, but they are also treated and monitored by perhaps half-a-dozen nurses with medical training and extensive experience.

Unfortunately, there are far too many hospitals that allow egotistical doctors to mistreat and berate the nursing staff. Not only does this create a hostile work environment, it also jeopardizes patient care by making it impossible for nurses to speak up when they see a problem, or to question a doctor's orders in any way. This is troubling when you consider that communication failure is a major factor in 63 percent of cases that result in patient death or permanent disability.

A 2013 survey of nurses and other medical professionals revealed some disturbing trends. According to the survey:

  • 74 percent of nurses have been victims of "condescending or demeaning comments or insults" made by physicians
  • 87 percent of nurses have dealt with physicians who displayed "reluctance or refusal to answer your questions, or return calls"
  • 42 percent of nurses have been victims of physicians who shamed, humiliated or spread nasty rumors about them
  • 26 percent of nurses have had objects thrown at them by angry doctors, including tools with patients' blood on them

While it's true that healthcare (and emergency medicine in particular) tends to be a high-stress and high-pressure environment, there is simply no excuse for this kind of behavior. It doesn't matter how many great doctors a hospital has. Without good nurses, patient care as we know it would grind to a halt.

Nurses need to be allowed and encouraged to speak up when they notice a problem. Even the best physicians miss details and make mistakes, because they are human just like the rest of us. To treat doctors as though they are infallible is to put patients at serious risk.

It's not clear how many hospitals in Oregon suffer because doctors are allowed to throw fits, but this type of behavior should not be tolerated anywhere. If you or a loved one experienced a harmful and preventable medical error, hospital culture may have played a role. To learn more, please discuss your case with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

Source: Slate, "Doctors Throwing Fits," Alexandra Robbins, April 29, 2015

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