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Bullying in neonatal intensive care units: free for all
  1. S Patole
  1. Department of Neonatology, Kirwan Hospital for Women, Townsville, Queensland 4817, Australia Sanjay_Patole{at}health.qld.gov.au

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    The increasing recognition of bullying (mobbing) at workplaces has resulted in the need for more evidence of this occupational hazard—immune to the professional status and difficult to define.1 Neonatal intensive care units probably represent the Antarctic, if the commonly repeated phrase in relation to bullying at workplaces is “What happened to me is just the tip of the iceberg”.1 As places expected to function like a military base but run by civilians, such units probably provide the best training grounds for bullying under the disguise of legitimate management actions or “manifestation of work related stress”. Given the abundance of potential victims and the high prevalence of risk factors like technical/clinical inexperience, isolation, long shifts, and fatigue, it is not surprising that bullying of the new trainees is rampant in neonatal nurseries. Sadly, I have been a silent witness over 17 years to the devastating effects of bullying on the junior staff (especially the registrars) almost on a daily basis in neonatal nurseries. I have lost track of the number of trainees who resigned, lost self esteem, and developed a strong dislike towards neonatology due to constant bullying disguised as “constructive criticism” at work. Morning rounds provide the most common opportunity for public professional humiliation of the registrars in neonatology. However, there is no escape during the long, exhausting night shifts either. The choice is then between accepting sarcasm or public humiliation depending on whether seniors have to come in or not and the reactions of the onlookers. In a faculty where 27% of the consultants and 32% of nurses have been reported to have psychological dysfunction, it may be very difficult to sound the icebergs of workplace bullying in neonatology.2 The only ray of hope is a mentor who combines humanity with science during supervision of trainees.3

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