Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Bullying in the Australian Medical Workforce: Crosssectional Data from an Australian E-Cohort Study

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Bullying in the Australian Medical Workforce: Crosssectional Data from an Australian E-Cohort Study

Article excerpt


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that the supply and retention of an appropriately prepared, deployed and supported health workforce is a critical global issue.1 Significant resources are invested into training the health workforce, therefore, it is important to understand and address factors that negatively affect the retention of trained personnel.1 The Doctors' electronic-Cohort (DeC) Study was established in 2008 to increase understanding about the factors associated with the recruitment and retention of the Australian medical workforce.

Workplace psychosocial factors such as stress, harassment and bullying have a significant impact on mental health, job satisfaction, and intention to leave the workforce.2 Although there is no single, universal definition of workplace bullying, it is generally accepted to be repeated systematic, interpersonal abusive behaviours that negatively affect the targeted individual.3 It is the impact of the bullying behaviour on the victim that is central to the concept of bullying, rendering the intentions of the perpetrator largely irrelevant.3-5

Workplace bullying in healthcare organisations affects the individuals involved, the organisations and the patients.3,6-8 Victims of workplace bullying suffer more psychological distress, greater dissatisfaction with work and life, and are more likely to quit work.3,6,7 At the organisational level, workplace bullying negatively affects staffperformance, quality of care and patient satisfaction.3,6 The prevalence of workplace bullying throughout the medical workforce in Australia or elsewhere has not been investigated, with previous studies focussing on subsets of doctors, particularly junior doctors.2,3,9-17 We report here on cross-sectional data gathered through the DeC Study on the prevalence and potential impact of bullying in the Australian medical workforce.


DeC Study participants

TheDeCStudy was open for participation to all doctors registered with the Australian Medical Registration Board and all medical students attending an Australian university. This nested crosssectional study focussed on doctors currently in paid work.

Study design and procedures

The current study was a cross-sectional analysis of data collected through the first measurement wave of the DeC study.

The DeC Study design mirrored the Nurses and Midwives e-Cohort Study (NMeS), taking advantage of the methodological and practical advances made by that study. Details of the NMeS have been reported elsewhere.18-20

Briefly, the DeC Study aimed to be a 5-year cohort study using a purpose-built internet-based survey (see http://doctors.e-cohort. net). Potential participants entered the study website and reviewed information about the study. Following provision of informed consent, participants were automatically directed to the study registration page, where they established a personal profile (username and password) and recorded baseline demographic and contact details. Once registered, participants could access the baseline survey which consisted of up to 120 questions and took between 20 and 40 min to complete. Data were entered on a question-by-question basis so that entered data were saved if a participant suspended the survey or lost their internet connection. At the next login, participants were automatically re-directed to the last question they completed. Participants were unable to peruse the survey questions before commencing it, and were unable to go back to previously answered or unanswered questions.

Regular electronic contact was maintained with participants: a welcome message within 2 weeks of registering; birthday cards; and regular newsletters about progress of the study. Emailed reminders were sent at 2 and 6 weeks after registration to participants who had not completed the survey. Prior to the close of the baseline measurement wave, participants with incomplete surveys were sent additional individualised requests to complete the survey via email and, depending on the available contact details, via mobile phones or personalised letters. …

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