600 clinicians report seeing threats, intimidation in Canadian operating rooms

Around 600 surgeons, nurses and other operating room clinicians reported witnessing or experiencing bullying behaviour in Canadian operating rooms in the past year, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Manitoba.

“It has been a well-known fact that operating rooms are high-stress environments, and particularly in a bygone era were an environment where bad behaviour amongst clinicians and how they treat one another, how they interact with the team, almost became an accepted part of operating room behaviour,” said Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, the principal investigator on the study and a professor at the U of M.

Jacobsohn is also a practicing anesthesiologist and intensive care physician with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Between July 2013 and July 2014, he and his team distributed a survey to operating room clinicians around the country and received just over 1,500 responses. Around 600 respondents said they’d seen some sort of abusive behaviour in the past year.

Here’s a glance at the numbers:

  • 448 out of 1540 operating room clinicians reported hearing verbal threats in the past year.
  • 475 reported personal space invasion with the intent of intimidating.
  • 154 clinicians reported seeing physical assault.
Eric Jacobsohn

Dr. Eric Jacobsohn is a professor at the University of Manitoba and a practising anesthesiologist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. He led a study into abusive behaviours in operating rooms around the country. (CBC)

“Let’s be clear that if you walked into an average operating room, I think it would be a harmonious relationship. There’s no doubt about it,” Jacobsohn said. “But my point is that 600 times in Canada, and 100 times particularly in the violence, that wouldn’t be the case.”

Jacobsohn said he thinks operating room culture is improving as hospitals and schools become less tolerant of bullying and get better at educating upcoming clinicians on working in teams. Nevertheless, he said any level of violence or bullying in the O.R. is unacceptable.

“Would any of us be happy if 100 pilots a year are near fisticuffs with a copilot or the crew? That would be unacceptable. So I think this kind of behaviour should be a null event.”

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

Jacobsohn’s team is in the process of submitting a similar study for publication on the global rates of abusive behaviour in operating rooms, including responses from 7,000 clinicians in seven countries.

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