Junior doctors still bullied, unpaid, overworked: survey

medical education

By Michael Woodhead

7 Feb 2022

Junior doctors are still experiencing bullying, wage theft and overwork, the 2021 Medical Training Survey (MTS) suggests.

Based on responses from more than 21,000 trainees, the annual survey published by the Medical Board of Australia has shown that medical workplace culture remains a serious problem and the rate of rate of negative findings has not improved on previous years.

Highlights from the report include:

  • One in three trainees (35%) reporting that they had experienced and/or witnessed bullying, harassment and/or discrimination (including racism) in training.
  • Almost half of trainees (45%) said they ‘never/sometimes’ got paid for un-rostered overtime, and 49% rated their workload as heavy/very heavy.
  • Improvement was reported in all aspects of the quality of supervision since 2020, with trainees receiving more regular and more useful feedback, both formal and informal.

Senior medical staff were the most common sources of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination for junior doctors, (experienced 51%, witnessed 54%) followed by  nurses/midwives (experienced 36%, witnessed 41%) and patients/carers/families (experienced 36%, witnessed 38%).

Two thirds of trainees who experienced bullying, harassment and/or discrimination did not report the incident and only 58% of trainees who reported it were satisfied with the follow-up.

The survey also revealed a link between unprofessional behaviours and medical training, with 38% of trainees who experienced bullying, discrimination and/or harassment reporting moderate or major adverse impacts on their training.

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the survey showed the need to act to tackle systemic issues impacting the training and wellbeing of doctors in training.

“It’s time for state and territory health departments to get serious about valuing the time doctors in training spend learning and providing excellent patient care by reviewing and providing appropriate staffing and adopting better rostering practices,” he said.

“Turning a blind eye to practices that allow doctors to work excessive unpaid, unrostered overtime is not only inefficient and unproductive, but it puts patient care and doctor wellbeing at risk,” he added.

The AMA is calling for legislative changes in all states and territories to improve health service leadership, governance and accountability to provide a culturally and psychologically safe work environment for all employees.

Dr Hash Abdeen, Chair AMA Council of Doctors in Training, noted that the survey also found that many trainees rated their 2021 training experiences highly, despite interruptions  because of COVID-19.

“This is a testament to the high quality of training in Australia and commitment from supervisors, Colleges and senior medical staff to supporting trainee during this challenging time,” Dr Abdeen said.

The survey responses showed that 80% of trainees would recommend their current training position to other trainees; with quality of clinical supervision receiving an 86% rating and quality of teaching an 83% rating from trainees.


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