Congratulations to Theresa Boyle and the Toronto Star for their exposure of a dark secret of the medical profession — the bullying and inappropriate behaviour that some members of the profession engage in.
I developed some modest expertise in this area, as the focus of some of the hate mail sent by physicians to the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) over the last year. But I was not the only one.
Sadly, many others have been subject to similar. Those have included medical students and residents in training who were actively coerced to vote in accordance with the interests of their superiors, or berated and threatened when they took principled positions in opposition.
I know of similar conduct towards physician colleagues whose only “crime” was volunteering to work on behalf of the profession as a whole and to try to arbitrate the sometimes disparate views of one specialty with those of another.
This behaviour goes on — with few checks and balances. Many of the communications in question have been on social media, a haven apparently for many who have a predilection for bad (and, of course, semi-anonymous) personal assaults. Other communications have been via email.
Most, in the instance of those sent to me as the president of the OMA, were very unfortunately received by OMA staff. Nothing prepares staff for this, and nothing makes it reasonable or appropriate. No failed negotiation, no misunderstanding about OMA processes, no perceived unfairness about whatever — nothing — makes the behaviour of this group of “professionals” acceptable.
It is reprehensible that conduct of this sort — and abuse of positions of trust and authority — are countenanced in our society and by the medical profession itself.
The vast majority of physicians understand the extraordinary privileges provided them by the broader society in which they work — because among other things, the many years of training they have, the long hours they work, the complex work they perform, the stress they are under, and the positions of trust and confidence they hold.
But the key word is here is privilege. The privileges society provides to the medical profession are not immutable rights. Those privileges are earned and the “contract” that exists between physicians and society is constantly under review. With it come accountabilities.
One of those accountabilities is professional behaviour and conduct at all times — and being civil and respectful in communications, even in times of dispute. Another includes not abusing power, for instance in dealing with trainees or staff.
It diminishes us all as individuals, as a profession and as a community when we allow the sort of conduct described in Theresa Boyle’s article to occur. We must all aspire to do better, and to treat everyone we deal with dignity and respect — whether our patients, our students, our colleagues or our staff.
The repellent conduct of a small minority of physicians, and those they employ, who abuse their power and the trust placed in them must be resoundingly rejected — by the community and, very importantly, by the medical profession itself. In this there remains much work to be done.
Virginia M. Walley, MD.
Virginia M. Walley, MD.
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