This morning (1st July 2013) on BBC Breakfast TV (0722 for those with BBC iPlayer) there is an extensive report on training junior doctors at Newcastle University. The focus they mentioned was Care, Compassion and Dignity - excellent, just as it should be. Dr Matthias Schmidt understands the need and the issues as do many of his colleagues. "If I don't set a good example we won't be looked after properly in the future. Of course.
There is also associated research at Cardiff and Dundee Universities. Lynn Monrouxe from Cardiff was interviewed as well as an anonymous junior doctor- too concerned for his own future to be named. He spoke of the dangers of "not showing due deference to seniors"!
What was a pleasure was to hear one of the co-authors, junior doctor Stephanie Wells speak of learning from the poor experiences as well as the good ones. There are indeed silver linings.
However as they went deeper more troubling comments were made about regular observations of poor behaviour by senior doctors, some of it potentially dangerous to patients and certainly demonstrating lack of concern about patient dignity. One comment was about poor hand washing - did Semmelweis teach us nothing? Another was about being requested to perform an unconsented procedure while the patient was anaesthetised. Aren't these simple basics? Hippocratic Oath anyone?
Abusive behaviour was a significant facet of their training. Then they mentioned the 'H' word - Hierarchy and the potential career-limiting move of reporting such unsafe and inappropriate behaviour. Let's face it, that isn't limited to juniors! sadly.
What on Earth is going on? Why do some senior clinicians think this is an OK way to behave? Is it repeating the behaviour they experienced as juniors? Is there any excuse?
We regularly run Human Factors courses for FY2 doctors across the country and always ask - "could you challenge every one of the senior doctors that you work with?" We have never had a positive answer to that. Indeed there was a major research programme a couple of years ago in the US where 100% of junior doctors stated exactly that - they could not challenge every senior.
We now ask the following question - "do you want to be one of the people that others hesitate to challenge when you qualify as a Consultant? If not now is the time to think about adopting safe open behaviour."