#KindAnaesthetists: a culture shift from bullying

Published: 02/03/2020
Dr Jamie Strachan

Consultant Anaesthetist, RCoA Member of Council

Being an anaesthetist is the best job in the world - when times are good, and people are happy and calm, then decent behaviour abounds. Colleagues are courteous, take the time to chat and work is a great place. Coffee breaks are given out with a smile, and lunch is a bonding group activity. Then when it's busy and we all work together to a common goal there is great camaraderie and it’s a really satisfying job! At 3am we collapse into a coffee room and talk through the good the bad and the ugly with (compared to other specialties) unmatched levels of pastoral and clinical support for colleagues and other staff. But in today’s NHS, as pressure and demand inexorably rises, and clinical cover struggles to keep up, then can bad behaviour begin to creep in, from others or from us? Sadly, the answer is sometimes yes – and whilst it’s a natural response of humans to working in an unfit environment, there are things we can do to prevent and deal with it.

“What shall we do!” I hear you cry… Well action is needed on a personal, organisational and national body level.

Personally – take time to get educated on civility and why it matters and how you can have the chat with a colleague about it – the evidence, the approaches, and the campaigns. You can start with the below resources.

If you are involved with your hospital or organisation or deanery (and we all are!) take an interest and ensure you have a culture where speaking up is OK.  Don’t just accept that zero-tolerance statements, or the appointment of “champions” will, in itself, lead to change. Hold your bosses to account.

On a national level – big organisations need to reflect the experience of our members in what we do and say and influence policy. The Royal College of Anaesthetists is part of the NHS Anti Bullying Alliance. I was pleased to represent the College at the Alliance’s most recent meeting in Belfast last month. We all agreed around the table of surgeons and nurses and physicians and others that this topic is not one professional group’s problem, rather that everyone holds part of the solution to the problem. If the problem is bullying – then the solution is kindness.

One thing I’d like to see is a change of language. Let’s talk about good conduct and caring for each other. Whilst talking of bullies and bullying is sometimes absolutely necessary to call things what they are, I believe it’s more important, and crucially more likely to change the culture of our workplaces, that we sing loudly about the positive culture in anaesthesia that we already have, and that we hold in high regard.

If you use twitter, Facebook or any other social media (and you are reading a blog…) then why not use the hashtag #KindAnaesthetists to celebrate the good we do for each other and our colleagues, because, well, we are kind, and no one goes to work intending to be a bully. If you see some kind behaviour that involves a fellow anaesthetist, then let the world know on social media!

Dr Jamie Strachan


There will be a corresponding article On Kindness by the author in the May 2020 Bulletin issue.