KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Public hospitals remain toxic workplaces, as a new survey among medical officers showed that majority suffered bullying and almost half faced harassment and discrimination.
The survey based on research by Universiti Malaya and conducted by Malaysian Medics International (MMI) — which was run last March among 143 medical officers who are studying for a Master of Surgery at public universities — also showed 12 per cent of respondents alleging sexual harassment. The study was commissioned and funded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia.
According to the online survey among surgical trainees, 62 per cent complained about bullying (abuse of power), 46 per cent alleged harassment (behaviour that violates a person’s dignity), and 46 per cent claimed to be victims of discrimination.
“My personal opinion on this matter is that stress is not due to the long working hours, but from the toxic health care workplace environment,” MMI founder and president Dr S. S. Vikkineshwaran said after sharing the survey with CodeBlue.
“From my observation, though this issue is not very rampant and not exclusive to the medical profession, the culture of oppressive behaviour still exists in the health care profession. Bullying, harassment, and undermining still happens within the fraternity and this is not exclusive to Malaysia.”
The survey — whose lead investigators were Dr Vikkineshwaran, a second-year house officer at Hospital Kuala Lumpur, and College of Surgeons president Professor Dr April Roslani — revealed medical officers’ allegations about verbal abuse, racist insults, ogling, sexual comments, inappropriate physical contact, and gender and racial discrimination in government hospitals.
“Verbally abused, words like ‘useless, not worth training, useless, donkey’. Personal clerks, personal errand runner,” said one complaint.
Another complaint wrote: “Humiliated and being criticised in group chats involving other surgeons, called ‘brainless’, conversing in Mandarin during formal rounds or handover when there are others who don’t understand the language, being disrespected and spoken in a rude manner amongst peers.”
One complaint accused their superiors of making “inappropriate sexual comments and joking about sexual favours”, while another said: “Certain derogatory words were used to describe my race by a specific surgeon”.
Many surgical trainees complained about being yelled at in front of patients and colleagues, while some accused consultants of undermining them, scolding them with vulgarities, and asking them to do work outside their job scope.
Some also alleged that they were denied work and study opportunities, or did not get invited to work events because of their ethnicity or age. One respondent, for example, claimed that getting hands-on work was based on race and “case report given based on preference and race”, while another complained that being of a different ethnicity from their superiors cost them further studying opportunities.
“There is a toxic work environment,” Dr Vikkineshwaran told CodeBlue.
The survey showed about 8 per cent of respondents admitted that they themselves bullied, harassed, or discriminated against others.
The medical officers justified their behaviour by saying that they worked in a stressful environment and juniors were not fulfilling their “basic duty”, besides citing “exhaustion” and getting “emotional” when patient safety is involved.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad told the press last April that he has tried to address the “little” bullying incidents targeting junior doctors as much as he could, but he did not consider it a “toxic culture”.
“Sometimes, all these heads of department are very passionate,” he said during his press interview ahead of the anniversary of Pakatan Harapan’s first year in office. “Some of our specialists, despite the odds, they stay with us.”
“If got a few mistakes, what is called bad apples or bad sheep, these are the minority. If one or two heads of department got idiosyncrasies, I don’t call it a toxic culture as such, but I handle it directly with the deputy DG (director-general) of medicine.”
Editor’s note: Changes were made in the article to more accurately reflect the study.