Tell It Like It Is: Anonymous Surgeons SpeakTop Stories

Gossip: Leave it on the Playground

By Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed., August 14, 2019

After all those grueling years of training—ostensibly a maturation process—there are still some physicians who act like kindergartners, says one orthopedic surgeon.

“I’m very disappointed in some of my colleagues,” he notes. “There are doctors targeting other doctors and vilifying them. This nastiness might be based on the outcome of a procedure or regarding something personal. Instead of letting things run through their proper channels they are spreading rumors about their colleagues. Some days I feel like I’m still in kindergarten.”

“We really need higher expectations of professionalism in our field, as well as better policing of such conduct. The damage caused by gossip is difficult to prove because in the end it’s, ‘I heard that so-and-so did…’ I want to ask someone participating in such gossip, ‘If I put you in front of a panel would you say that?’ Ideally, someone overhearing such comments would say, ‘I am willing to say I heard this because it is abhorrent.’”

And there is little recourse, says this surgeon. “There is no compliance officer for such behavior, and we have no data to prove how it can ruin someone’s reputation. And who is going to start a defamation suit? It’s pretty bleak if you are on the receiving end of such a problem.”

Wayne M. Sotile, Ph.D., is co-author of The Thriving Physician, (with Gary Simonds, M.D.). Founder of the Center for Physician Resilience, Dr. Sotile has worked with thousands of physicians on work-life issues. He told OSN, “Gossiping is cancerous to a positive workplace and is a sophomoric way to forge a cheap connection with one person at the expense of another. Unfortunately, gossiping is one of an array of dysfunctional behaviors that we have ‘normalized’ in the healthcare setting. We have the deviant norm of ‘talk about each other, not to each other.’”

“Our research has shown that both resilience and medical family happiness hinge on physician career satisfaction; and that the quality of workplace relationships is a primary driver of job/career satisfaction and resilience. When viewed from this perspective, gossip is seen as a threat not only to one’s work culture, but also to one’s personal resilience.”

“The next time you find yourself gossiping about a colleague, ask you self this: ‘Why am I acting like such a self-destructive coward…chasing the ‘cheap thrill’ of connecting momentarily with one person, at the expense of another?’ Then, just as you have done countless times in the course of your career, muster whichever of your reserves it takes, and do the courageous and right thing: Go speak directly to the person of concern. Doing so will help not only to preserve your collaboration and your positive engagement in your work, it will also help safeguard your personal and family resilience.”

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Elizabeth Hofheinz

Two time winner of the MORE award Ms. Hofheinz was the first writer employed by Orthopedics This Week. The MORE award is granted annually by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to recognize excellence in journalism. Ms. Hofheinz is currently the Director of Communications for Ortho Spine Partners (OSP) and resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her entrepreneur husband and delightful daughter.

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