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Most top medical schools lack anti-bullying policies for faculty

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Researchers looked for anti-bullying policies covering faculty at 91 top-rated medical colleges. Four schools had policies, signaling ‘a culture tolerant of bullying,’ they found.

Most of America’s top-ranked medical schools don’t include anti-bullying policies covering faculty members.

Researchers examined policies at 91 medical schools and found only four institutions included policies aimed at protecting faculty members from bullying, according to an analysis published in Jama Network Open.

Even the four schools with anti-bullying policies were lacking in some areas, the researchers wrote.

“Without clear antibullying policies, the identification of bullying behaviors is ambiguous, reporting is low-to-absent, and bullies have nonstandardized repercussions,” the authors wrote.

“This signals a culture tolerant of bullying and an environment in which bullying can be perpetuated.”

The researchers reviewed policies and institutions ranked highly in U.S. News and World Report’s compilation of top medical schools.

Sixty of the 91 medical schools reviewed had published anti-harassment policies, the authors stated. Ten of those 60 schools with anti-harassment policies mentioned bullying and included reporting procedures, the authors wrote.

The anti-harassment policies typically involved protected classes under federal law, such as race, national origin and disability.

“Targets of bullying may not meet protected class criteria; therefore, these policies provide little recourse,” the authors wrote.

Still, 26 medical schools didn’t have any policies regarding harassment or bullying, the researchers wrote.

Medical students have protections under the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, an independent organization that sets professional standards, the authors noted. However, practicing physicians rely on the standards set by the institutions, which vary.

The American Medical Association issued a policy in 2020 calling for all healthcare organizations, including academic medical centers, to adopt policies to prevent and address bullying.

Beyond implementing policies, the AMA said “organizations should strategize to create a culture in which bullying does not occur.” The steps include anonymous surveys of medical staff and students and encouraging open discussions about bullying.

In addition to making life miserable for the victims, bullying can hurt patient care, the authors wrote. The Joint Commission has said intimidating behaviors raise the risk of medical errors, adverse outcomes that could have been prevented, and higher costs.

In addition to concerns about bullying, sexual harassment remains all too common in academic medicine.

One in three women faculty members in academic medicine say they have been sexually harassed in the past 12 months, according to a report published last month by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC report said the findings were particularly disturbing, because America needs more doctors and a more diverse physician workforce.

“We cannot deliver the best education, medical care, and scientific advancements while harmful, often illegal, behaviors are tolerated — and we need the best of academic medicine in our current environment,” the AAMC report stated.

The researchers in the paper on bullying policies noted some limitations in the study, including the fact that they didn’t review all medical school policies. The authors added that five medical schools required login credentials to access policies, which the researchers didn’t have.

Still, the authors said medical schools need to adopt policies to prevent bullying of faculty members. “To support the eradication of bullying, clear, comprehensive institutional antibullying policies are needed,” the authors wrote.

The authors of the research letter were Maya S. Iyer of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; Yujung Choi of Duke University in Durham, N.C.; and Cherri Hobgood of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Ind.


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