Original Article

CME Article: Supporting Trainees by Addressing Inappropriate Behaviors by Patients

Authors: Karla E. Williams, MD, Monica L. Baskin, PhD, Amanda L. Brito, MD, Sejong Bae, PhD, Lisa L. Willett, MD, MACM


Objectives: Physicians in training may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of discrimination and inappropriate behaviors by patients. We sought to determine the frequency of inappropriate behaviors by patients toward Internal Medicine (IM) residents, residents’ confidence to manage the behaviors, and differences among demographic characteristics, including race, sex, and level of clinical experience.

Methods: We developed a curricular session to equip IM residents and faculty to respond to discrimination or inappropriate behaviors by patients. Before the session, we surveyed residents about their experiences with macroaggressions, microaggressions, and other inappropriate behaviors using a 16-question survey instrument. We used descriptive statistics to summarize the participants’ characteristics and the χ2 or Fisher exact test for comparison between groups.

Results: Eighty-two percent (27 of 33) of residents who attended the workshop completed the survey. We found that the majority of residents experienced patient macro- and microaggressions. More than 50% had a personal experience or witnessed experience with a macroaggression related to race (56%) or gender (59%). Seventy percent of residents personally experienced a microaggression by a patient. Women and residents of color are more likely to experience these types of encounters, which become more common in residents with higher postgraduate year level. Confidence in how to appropriately respond to such encounters is low.

Conclusions: Our study highlights that macro- and microaggressions by patients toward IM residents are common. Curricula are needed to equip trainees with tools to appropriately respond during such encounters.

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