Revealing Family Secrets: My Experience of Toxic Work Environments in Healthcare

Revealing Family Secrets: My Experience of Toxic Work Environments in Healthcare

Ever felt something was so deeply wrong yet also knew "it wasn't talked about"?

Whenever I talk about toxic work environments inside of healthcare, I start to feel like I'm "revealing family secrets" by being honest and open about what I have observed and personally experienced that takes place in healthcare.

I know these issues need to be exposed in order to move forward into a better place but the feeling that I'm "betraying the system" creep in even as I type now.

On one hand, medicine is all about caring, healing and meeting needs others. But on the other, medicine has turned into a business industry in which we have not adequately learned to identify bad business practices and handle them well. Be it that we try to function as altruistic and helping the patient, I feel a creepy cesspool behind the smiling outer surface of medicine. There is a huge disconnect to how healthcare is portrayed vs the reality as I have lived it.

I feel a creepy cesspool behind the smiling outer surface of medicine.

It doesn't feel like :

  • The pictures of doctors and nurses smiling at each other while they work in peace and harmony.
  • The shiny, serene brochure of the hospital or office on a beautiful day.
  • The information/educational videos of patients so happy, relaxed and shaking your hand while you examine them with a stethoscope

The front put on about our work environments just feels false. But could the marketing department actually put the truth on advertising and people still show up?

The front put on about our work environments just feels false. But could the marketing department actually put the truth on advertising and people still show up?

So why doesn't it all match up? Well, as I have progressed through my journey from medical student, resident, young physician, I have seen lots of dark and dangerous practices that is eroding to the system and many individuals. On the flip side, I've also been a part of healing, miraculous recoveries and cures. But the issue is, there is a huge disconnect between to the two. There seems to be an underlying falsehood that you have to go through all the hell to just get a little slice of the heaven.

There seems to be an underlying falsehood that you have to go through all the hell to just get a little slice of the heaven.

Specific examples of Hell in my experience:

  • Bullying: by patients to providers, senior nurses to newer staff and between physicians on other physicians
  • Demeaning behaviors: such as healthcare workers pushing off their responsibilities onto others because "this is below me" or "I just don't want to do it" or "It's not my turn" or "It's almost shift change"
  • Gossip conversations: picking apart a member of the team because of their differences in appearance, family life, personal decisions, numerous other topics not at all related to their job
  • Inappropriate ways of expressing anger and/or disappointment: shaming someone else, yelling, slamming or throwing objects all because they were pushed to the breaking point
  • Weak communication systems because of the total lack of communication or withholding or misleading information to someone else an edge
  • Tangled lines of communication with unclear policies: the leadership ladder is so convoluted in medicine, who answers to who? Or perhaps you have to answer to 3 different people?
  • Leaders so paralyzed by choices that they make no choice. Workers feel little or no recognition and that their work is undervalued.

All these qualify as components to toxic work environments. Can you relate?

Well, like it or not, this really has to change! How? IDK right now. But I feel like the first step is simply pulling back the curtain of secrets and spreading light into these dark places.