Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers…February 16 preconference

Although I was faculty rather than participant, this workshop about horizontal and vertical violence (“Bullying”) was a learning experience for me. As the only physician on the panel I expected to be isolated, to feel like a concentration-camp guard at the Holocaust Museum; instead I was surprised at the number of physicians in the room, often, it seemed, with experience on both sides of the bullying divide.

While the literature suggests that nurse-on-nurse bullying is slightly more common in health care, that has not been my experience. Trained in an environment in which bullying was a norm, physicians have a tough time escaping from that practice. It was clear that this group of physicians was determined to heal, and that the others on the palliative care team were equally determined to travel on the same journey. Most of us experience bullying in our work, and the nursing studies which dominate the literature suggest this is a significant factor in leaving the profession.

Modern teaching theory suggests that adult learners do well with short doses of didactic material and much better with “showing” rather than “telling.” In the interest of “showing” we inserted an episode of “horizontal violence” into the didactic session as an unannounced role play, with one presenter harrassing another to the extent that the room became visibly tense and uncomfortable, while the undermined presenter grew more flustered, shaky, dropping her materials. We stopped almost immediately to debrief. One of the participants asked “what could we have done to stop this,” and we spent much of the rest of the meeting examining this question in parallel experiences of “real life.”

Reflective practices which teach us to move toward appropriate action in spite of our ever-present fears are the foundation of resistance to bullying. Gifted teacher Don Marks hleped us understand the effect of these practices, actually decreasing the activity and size of the amigdyla, the brain’s “fear center,” increasing the size of the insula, the compassion center.

Again, understanding that “showing” works better than “telling,” we demonstrated two practices, reflective writing and a meditation. Participants were enthusiastic, understanding how these practices could well move them to a place where they could better intervene in bullying episodes on behalf of themselves or others.

Patrick Clary, MD

New Hampshire Palliative Care Services

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