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I’ll call him Dr B. He seemed nice when we first met, before my job began. We had a chat, we shared a love of rugby and Star Wars.
I’d been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. My kidneys weren’t working. I had problems with my heart, the usual pain, rashes, hair loss. I was open and honest about it. He seemed nice about it then.
He was a brand new partner, having inherited a practice after the old ones retired.
It all seemed very good, reassuring for when I was starting the job a month later, in August. I was optimistic, felt able to cope with the hours and workload, while managing with a chronic disease.
I don’t remember the exact point things started going downhill but it must have been early on.
He began calling me into his office, on a daily basis for some perceived misdemeanour or other. My weekly tutorials seemed to focus on practice finances. He showed me his personal wage slip, photos of his expensive house. My fellow trainee was getting taught about contraception etc. etc. etc.
The daily beratings increased in severity to the point where I’d break down and cry. I told him I was struggling with my health, the long days. He agreed to ‘reasonable adjustments’, that I could start at 8.30am not 8am, finish half an hour earlier. In reality, I didn’t see fewer patients, just cut into my lunch, my time to eat, do home visits, catch up with paperwork, attend meetings. My days became hell.
I was berated for missing a practice meeting and tutorial. I’d been drawing up a palliative care plan for a dying patient at a nursing home instead. I was on my own, in my first year of specialty training, checking the drug doses, talking to an understandable distressed family. It took a lot of time.
Another occasion, I arrived 20 minutes late but ready to see my first patient just after 9am. He’d already been seen. Dr B came storming into my room, slammed the door on the wall, demanded my excuse. I ended up texting him every day: when I arrived, when I left.
Then there was the incident with a premature baby. It had repercussions for weeks, brought up daily until I went off sick. I’d sought help from a senior GP and the paediatric team. They recommended different drugs. Dr B berated me for following the advice of the paeds. Called me ‘arrogant’. He wouldn’t let me explain; too ‘disgusted’. Obviously, I cried once again.
I cried a lot. They forced me to see a counselling service.
He came into my office. Sat down, crossed his arms. ‘I know you think you have problems,’ he said. ‘But we all have problems.’
I struggled to function, felt physically sick, emotionally broken. I used to cry on the way to work. Prayed that a truck would flatten my car. I forgot to pay my car tax. It was clamped outside the practice. Another berating.
He asked my three times: ‘Do you think I am bullying you?’ I felt pressured, I said, no.
By November, I couldn’t carry on. It was agreed I could take sick leave. But he told me to stay until the end of the week ‘so you can leave with your head held high’. I did.
I was sick for the rest of my ST1, was admitted for chemotherapy. I applied for a break from training, for an out-of-programme experience, to help me get well. It was declined, so I was forced to resign.
I was devastated and lost.
Then, through locums and volunteering I found another specialty with a team who were incredibly kind and supportive. My confidence was absolutely shattered. There were daily panic attacks I couldn’t admit to. I slowly started to heal.
I need to find a way to move past him. I am doing much better. I’d like to just be able to answer his question, ‘Do you think I am bullying you?’ But honestly this time: ‘Yes, and you know you are.’
Karen Jones (not her real name) is a public health trainee. She now works in Australia
Find out more about the BMA’s work on tackling bullying and harassment:
What a dreadful experience. A bullying boss can leave emotional scars for a long long time. He sounds like a right tyrant. Until doctors feel confident and able to call such people out for their toxic behaviour without fear of an adverse impact on their reputation or career, then these types operate with a cloak of invincibility.
I can identify with your dreadful experience. The word ‘berated’ and the phrase ‘called into (the) office’ are uncomfortable reminders of my own experience in 2012 leading to my resignation under duress from General Practice. I am now in a more forgiving speciality. The course of a career and ambition can be irreparably damaged because of power imbalances in medicine. Although I am not religious, Matthew11:4 says something along the lines of ‘...if you are not welcome and if you are not listened to, shake the dust of your feet as you leave...’ I hope you now feel welcome in your change of environment , best wishes.
Matthew 10:14 , my mistook
I am at the moment going through this nightmare! Oh God help me!
“Karen jones” here. I’m so sorry to hear others have gone through or are going through this too. I found just telling this story has brought my recovery from this a long way. If I can help anyone else going through this by being a listening ear I’d be glad to. I’m so worried about the person saying they’re living this nightmare now. I’ve been there and I remember literally praying a truck would hit my car. Please reach out to someone- even me! Don’t suffer alone. Peace x
To the anonymous commenter who is going through this nightmare currently; you are not alone! Please don't hesitate to reach out for support from the BMA counselling service, and doctor adviser service by calling 0330 123 1245. Depending on your needs this will put you in touch with either a professional telephone counsellor, or a fellow doctor who is part of our Doctor adviser service. Alternatively, contact Keith Cooper who will be able to put you in touch with Karen (the blog author), anonymously. He's on [email protected]
Dear Karen, your experience resonates a lot with experiences I had through my training. I had to deal with bullying and harrassment at differnt times of my career and in different settings. No matter how many positve experiences I had at other times, the the bullying/harrassment experiences had a lasting damaging effect on my professional confidence and trust in collegues.
To the person who is going through this at the moment, I AM VERY SORRY TO HEAR YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THIS. Please do seek out help as advised by the community manager. Nobody should be left feel fighting this on thier own. Take care of yourself!