EVERY year on the first Friday of June, we pull out our crazy, printed socks to raise awareness and normalise the conversation around mental illness in the medical profession.
We promote self-care, work–life balance, and wellbeing initiatives. We name issues relating to unpaid overtime, inflexible training requirements, and stigma around sick leave. We take fun photos, share baked treats, and check in with each other.
We think about what, as fellow doctors and colleagues, we could do to better support one another.
However, too often absent from this conversation – at least in my experience – is the ongoing contribution of bullying and harassment to the poor mental health of junior doctors. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and one that we frequently struggle as a profession to address in any real or tangible sense.
The irony of our bullies donning their patterned socks each June is not lost on me. Because unfortunately, like most registrars, I have experienced bullying and harassment at work. As a postgraduate year 5 (PGY5) doctor this experience has occurred more than once.
From consultants, to senior registrars, to nursing staff colleagues – I have numerous examples from which to choose. As a junior doctor and trainee representative on various committees, I am aware of many more.
This is not a new story nor an original one, and I am not about to say anything that you don’t already know. From overt threats to subversive undermining, junior doctors continue to navigate these challenges in our hospitals.
Some of these stories will be thrust into the limelight and deservingly so; like the story of Caroline Tan in 2015 or the story of Yumiko Kadota in 2019. More commonly, however, these stories will only be whispered in the corridors or perhaps not told at all.
Frequently, the issue will be placed on the trainee – blaming a misunderstanding, poor performance, or a lack of resilience on the part of the junior doctor rather than acknowledging and addressing the bad behaviour of the perpetrator.
Indeed, as a profession we are so uncomfortable with our own vulnerability that there is no greater insult than to suggest that a colleague “might not be coping”.
It is a narrative that undermines any effort to create a psychologically safe workplace. And without psychological safety, we can never hope to achieve good mental health.
Each time I have raised my concerns about poor behaviour in the workplace, whether experienced by myself or by others, there have been staff ready to defend its occurrence or to justify why it cannot be changed. And there have been others who have been willing to overlook or ignore it altogether.
But equally, there have been champions, and I dedicate this to them:
- colleagues who have called out bad behaviour, even when it might put their own career progression at risk;
- colleagues who have memorised local hospital policies, College requirements, stipulations within the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement and the Fair Work Act (2009) – ready to draw on relevant subsections at a moment’s notice;
- colleagues who have shared their own lived experiences of bullying and harassment, and who have supported others to do the same;
- colleagues who have rallied together, knowing that none of us can ever be safe at work until we are all safe at work;
- colleagues who supported me this past Crazy Socks 4 Docs day, as I lodged my own complaint with human resources.
And as I reflect on my experiences, I find myself thinking about our final-year medical students – currently preparing for internship, full of enthusiasm and excitement to join us as colleagues within the medical profession. Trusting that those who came before them will contribute to meaningful change.
I hope that going forward, their stories will be better.
Dr Skye Kinder is the 2019 VIC Young Australian of the Year. She was recently named by Forbes 30 Under 30 for social impact in the Asia Pacific region. She can be found on Twitter @skyekinder
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.