Original Article

CME Article: Workplace Violence: Experiences of Internal Medicine Trainees at an Academic Medical Center

Authors: Becky Lowry, MD, Leigh M. Eck, MD, Erica E. Howe, MD, JoHanna Peterson, MD, Cheryl A. Gibson, PhD


Objectives: Healthcare professionals are at higher risk for workplace violence (WPV) than workers in other sectors. This elevated risk exists despite the vast underreporting of WPV in the medical setting. The challenge of responding to this risk is compounded by limited empirical research on medical training environments. Understanding trainees’ experience and educating them on workplace safety, WPV reporting, and awareness of resources are shared goals of educational and institutional leadership. In our setting, clear understanding and education were urgent after the enactment of a statewide “constitutional carry” law affording individuals a right to carry concealed firearms in all state-owned universities and hospitals, beginning in July 2017. We sought to examine the incidence of WPV affecting Internal Medicine trainees to understand the types of violence encountered, reporting rates, and the factors that influence reporting.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional online survey of Internal Medicine residents and fellows in practice for the previous 12 months. Survey items included both forced choice and open-ended questions. Descriptive statistics were calculated and used to summarize the study variables. χ2 tests were performed to examine whether sex differences existed for each of the survey questions. Qualitative responses were content analyzed and organized thematically.

Results: Of 186 trainees, 88 completed the survey. Forty-seven percent of respondents experienced WPV, with >90% of cases involving a patient, a patient’s family member, or a patient’s friend. Verbal assault was the most common type of incident encountered. Trainees formally reported fewer than half of the violent incidents disclosed in the survey. Major factors that influenced reporting included the severity of the incident, condition of the patient, and clarity of the reporting mechanism.

Conclusions: Previous research indicates similar amounts and types of WPV. Likewise, a large percentage of the incidents are not reported. Addressing the key factors related to why physicians underreport can inform institutions on how to make systematic changes to reduce WPV and its negative impact. Future research is needed to examine whether specific interventions can be implemented to improve reporting and reduce the incidence of WPV.


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