Evidence of bullying and harassment of medical students and junior doctors has existed for over 30 years. However, there has been little attempt to explore the dimensions of this issue in Australia to date. Given the evidence which indicates that experiencing abusive behaviour has a detrimental effect on professional identity formation and on mental health, the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) undertook a national scoping study to better understand the experiences of Australian medical students.
We conducted a mixed methods survey of the 16,959 students enrolled in a medical degree at an Australian university in 2015. An anonymous, voluntary online questionnaire was distributed through AMSA’s social media, email newsletter and website, and medical students’ societies.
We received 519 responses, including 194 (37%) detailing at least one incident of bullying or harassment. 335 (65%) survey respondents were women and 345 (67%) were in the clinical years of their training. 60% of all respondents reported experiencing or witnessing mistreatment during their medical education. The most common theme in the free text was belittlement of the student’s competence and capacity to be a good doctor. Some gave details about how universities failed to prevent or appropriately respond to students’ experiences of bullying and harassment.
In line with international data, this study shows that many Australian medical students perceive mistreatment as an important problem that is not always managed well by faculties. Multi-pronged policy and practice responses are needed to instigate cultural change in Australian medical education.