Does physician verbal abuse create a bad working environment—or the reverse?

August 6, 2013

A recent study by the RN Work Project found that newly licensed registered nurses (NLRNs) who were verbally abused by nursing colleagues reported lower job satisfaction, unfavorable perceptions of their work environment, and greater intent to leave their current jobs. Now, a new study by the same research team finds that high levels of physician verbal abuse are closely associated with more negative work environments. The RN Work Project is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study found that nurses who experienced high (more than five times in the last three months) or moderate (one or more times in the last three months) levels of verbal abuse by had less favorable perceptions of their work environments, lower intent to stay in their jobs, and lower commitment to their organizations. Those who experienced the most frequent abuse also perceived poor collegial relations between RNs and physicians, poor workgroup cohesion, and more work-. Higher levels of verbal abuse from physicians were also correlated with more verbal abuse among nurse colleagues.

The study was published online in Nursing Outlook. Investigators for the study were: Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the School of Nursing, University at Buffalo; Christine T. Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the College of Nursing, New York University; Rana Obeidat, PhD, RN, Faculty of Nursing at Zarqua University in Jordan; and Wendy Budin, RN-BC, PhD, FAAN, adjunct professor at the College of Nursing, New York University. Kovner and Brewer direct the RN Work Project.

The researchers surveyed 1,328 NLRNs about how often they were verbally abused by physicians and the nature of the abuse. They found that RNs who were the most likely to experience verbal abuse by physicians were: younger; working in hospital settings; working day shifts; and working on units that were short-staffed.

"One of the most striking findings is that higher levels of verbal abuse by physicians are correlated with poorer perceptions of the work environment across the board," said Brewer. "It also seems that verbal abuse is contagious. One potential explanation is that negative behavior exhibited by one member of a group spills over to other members of the group and hurts the group dynamic. We also see that in a stressful environment, including one in which there is physician to RN abuse, there is more likely to be RN to RN abuse, as well."

Similar to the findings regarding abuse by other RNs, this study revealed that working in Magnet hospitals was associated with lower levels of verbal abuse by physicians.

"Physicians' verbal abuse of nurses is a long-standing problem and one we need to do much more to address," said Kovner. "It hurts morale, breeds further verbal abuse, and is associated with nurse intention to leave, particularly among younger nurses. All of these things ultimately reduce the quality of patient care. Health care organizations need to do much more to create positive, healthy work environments"

The researchers note that a variety of methods have been proposed to prevent verbal abuse but suggest that those methods must be part of a holistic approach to improving the , as targeting only is not enough. They also assert that any policies put in place should be developed in cooperation with nursing leaders, key physicians, and administrators.

Explore further: Improving patient care by improving nurses' work environment

More information: www.nursingoutlook.org/article/S0029-6554(13)00005-5/abstract

Related Stories

Improving patient care by improving nurses' work environment

November 30, 2011

While nurse-to-patient ratios are widely recognized as an important factor in determining the quality of patient care, those ratios are not always easy to change without significant cost and investment of resources. What's ...

Recommended for you

Older people getting smarter, but not fitter

August 31, 2015

Older populations are scoring better on cognitive tests than people of the same age did in the past —a trend that could be linked to higher education rates and increased use of technology in our daily lives, say IIASA population ...

Higher intelligence score means better physical performance

August 14, 2015

New research reveals a distinct association between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent midlife physical performance. The higher intelligence score, the better physical performance, the study reveals. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dr_lorraine_barron
not rated yet Aug 09, 2013
In a stressful environment, health care professionals are prone to verbal abuses. This is due to the urge to deliver an optimum level of care to every patient. Long hours of work and less sleep can also be one of the reasons. As a locums physician, I get to decide where I want to work and have a flexible schedule, thus, stress is minimized.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.