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Midwifery must take steps to deal with professional bullying


Midwifery culture must change to eradicate bullying at all levels of the profession, an Irish study has concluded.

The authors, from the University of Ulster, recommended that midwifery acknowledge that bullying in the profession was unacceptable, and increase awareness of what constitutes bullying.

They surveyed more than 150 student midwives in the UK, finding that more than half had been badly treated in their place of work. Students said they were most often bullied by another midwife, usually their mentor or ward sister, although university lecturers and personal tutors were also identified as bullies. Bullied students reported a lack of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety, as a result.

‘Over half the students gave examples of being treated badly, one-third reported that they had witnessed their midwifery colleagues being bullied, and over 50% stated that they suffered intimidation, excessive criticism, belittling of their work, undervaluing of their skills, questioning of their competency and undervaluing of their effort,’ said the authors in the journal Evidence Based Midwifery.

They called for all qualified midwives to examine their own behaviour, particularly when dealing with student midwives. They also recommended that the nature of bullying, and how it happened in practice, should be added to curricula for midwife education.

Student midwives should be taught how to deal with bullying, and how to offer support to colleagues, said the researchers.

‘Key stakeholders such as the RCM, RCN, NHS Employers, the NMC, and midwives, need to face up to the fear that surrounds this phenomenon and take a proactive approach, which clearly labels bullying as a behaviour that is not acceptable within 21st-century midwifery,’ they said.


Did you experience bullying as a student nurse or midwife?

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Bullying in any social setting is offensive and illegal. However, this is not a new phenomena. I was bullied by my midwifery tutor way back in 1976; even told that i should pack up midwifery as i wouldn't make a good midwife, purely on the fact that after 6 months in training I could not identify landmarks on cephalic presentation. For me this was a trigger for success and I went on to become a Senior midwifery manager, supervisor of midwives and a a midwifery lecturer! The nursing and midwifery profesion for too long has normalised bullying and intimidation. Until someone gets sued for inflicting psychological harm, we might then sit up and really take notice.

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  • Like the first poster said, it isn't just Midwifery but all of Nursing that has had a culture of bullying for a long long time.

    Until Nurses and Midwives start getting a union that is solely there to protect THEM and THEIR interests, and not there to victimize Nurses and Midwives under the thinly veiled guise of 'patients best interests' then this is unlikely to change.

    Ironically for a caring profession, some Nurses and Midwives are amongst the most nasty, bullying individuals I have ever met. And bare in mind that I am ex army too, so I am hardly one with weak shoulders!

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  • I agree with the previous 2 comments. Bullying in nursing/midwifery is so normalised that it will take a long time to eradicate it. In my experience senior managers always side with the bullies,who usually operate in packs.They are further helped so called HR advisers and some union reps. I know this from experience. The union rep who claimed to be representing me was in fact working on behalf of the bullies. No one will be successfully while Unions, HR, and Occupatinal Health officers do deals to discredit complainees and support their cronies.
    I took the corrupt Trust to an Employment Tribunal, whereupon The Union withdrew representation. I was confident to proceed and represent myself. The Trust solicitor threatened me with the costs I would face on losing. When that did not deter me, a large sum of money, and good character reference was offered to settle out of Tribunal. So, until targets are couragous enough to call the bullies & their cronies to account, bullying will remain normalised. Research shows that seeking help from a union is not the best option. CAUSE, at is now helping lots of staff to deal with bullies.
    The other relevant research point is that the commonest cause for being bullied is "being good at your work". How can the NHS allow its best staff to be destroyed by this destructive, toxic culture?

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  • Good morning,
    Please can the person that sent their comments on the 23rd July 2009 time 8:37 pm, please contact me, I desperately need to access the research showing that seeking help from the union is not always the best option.
    I agree with this research from experience and having this research will add weight when I submit my concerns publicly.
    You have given me the courage to speak up since my other nursing collegues are too afraid to speak up

    Thank you

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  • I appreciate this is an old article but I'm not sure much has changed. I was targeted and bullied by a select few whilst doing my training and it knocked my confidence so much that I left with only 3 months remaining to the end. I had little support or direction around it and on top of the obvious stresses and pressures of the role itself, I was left with so much anxiety as to what a shift would hold if certain people were on, I felt utterly debilitated and unable to do anything but leave.

    Mine isn't the only story I know of either, and I was never asked to be part of a study so goodness knows what the true number of people affected by bullying is. It went so far within my friends trust that they managed to fail her based on one mentors personal feelings, and I appreciate that sounds ridiculous but if you heard her case, which she's sadly given up fighting for lack of support, you'd be amazed at how some of what went on was allowed and ignored.

    The impact of our experiences is having a long term affect and should not be underestimated!

    I'm happy to discuss any of this further but the embarrassment of the situation in left with makes me withhold my name.

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