NPR report: Future doctors depict mentors as monsters


Earlier this month, health journalist Julie Rovner reported for NPR on a class of medical students who were invited to draw comics depicting their training, workplaces, and relationships with mentors/supervisors. It’s not a pretty picture:

How stressful is medical training? So bad that in a class that encouraged medical students to express their feelings by drawing comics, nearly half of them depicted their supervisors as monsters, researchers say.

Students imagined the workplace as dank dungeons, represented supervising physicians as fiendish, foul-mouthed monsters, and themselves as sleep-deprived zombies walking through barren post-apocalyptic landscapes, the study authors, Daniel R. George and Dr. Michael Green, wrote Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

In one particularly harrowing image, a student “depicted his supervising physician screaming at the medical team, causing one intern to urinate herself moments before having her head bitten off for possessing too little information about a patient,” the authors wrote.

Click to the full piece if you’d like to see some of the artwork.

This is yet more evidence that the health care workplace is a troubled one. In fact, last week I shared the story of a nurse who attempted suicide after enduring a prolonged course of bullying and harassment.

Because psychological abuse at work tends to roll downhill, it’s also likely that some of these doctors-in-training will take cues from what they’ve experienced and treat their colleagues and co-workers in a similar manner. In an August 2012 piece, I suggested that professional schools can be incubators for workplace bullying:

It has long been my belief that the seeds of workplace bullying are planted in professional schools that prepare people to enter occupations such as law and medicine.

You start with ambitious young people who (1) are used to being heralded as academic stars; (2) do not have a lot of life experience; and (3) tend to be driven, Type A achievers. You then put them in high-pressured educational environments that emphasize technical knowledge and skills and a lot of “left-brain” logical thinking. These degree programs don’t place a lot of emphasis on interpersonal skills and the development of emotional intelligence.

You then unleash them unto the world of work. Uh oh.

That post includes a summary of a New York Times piece about a resident doctor who terrified the medical students with his explosive behavior.

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