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Kathleen Bartholomew: Standing Up to Physician Bad Behavior

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, December 2, 2010

"Our patients will never be safe until all caregivers feel safe enough to communicate—to challenge, question, advocate, and ask for clarification."
— Kathleen Bartholomew

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is Kathleen Bartholomew's story.

For decades, there was a dirty little secret in healthcare. Everyone knew it existed, but no one wanted to talk about it. The secret was that bad behavior and bullying were rampant. In a supposedly caring profession, some caregivers were not caring at all, to the point that they made lives miserable and disrupted patient care.

Today, the secret is out. Everyone has heard that bad behavior, bullying, and poor communication are serious safety concerns that lead to medical errors, poor patient care, and high staff turnover. Even The Joint Commission has issued a mandate for organizations to have a policy in place to deal with bad behavior.

One of the people who exposed the secret is a nurse named Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN. Her hard work and strong voice shone a light on the problem, focusing attention on its critical impact on patient safety. She has made it her life's work to end bullying and bad behavior by physicians and nurses.

Bartholomew first encountered physician bad behavior as a brand new nurse in the early 1990s. No stranger to difficult situations, she would not conform to the culture of submissiveness that pervaded nursing, and instead challenged the behavior and found her calling.

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5 comments on "Kathleen Bartholomew: Standing Up to Physician Bad Behavior"


Janet Eckhart, EdD, MSN, RN (11/13/2011 at 10:25 AM)
It is time that all of us acknowledge that whatever name we choose to give this ugly cancer on our profession (bullying, eating our young, lateral violence)is thriving in our academic center as well as the workplace. We ingrain this unspoken behavior in the earliest stages of developing our nursing: the educational programs. It starts with how faculty interact with each other and the students and spreads to how students interact with each other. We are what we teach. So is there any wonder when these young nurses enter the work force, they have novice experience with these undo forces and encounter the seasoned nurses who have refined the skills for bullying and "eating our young". We operate on the belief system of new graduates having to run the gauntlet, taking their beating/pay their dues before they can be assimilated into the sisterhood/brotherhood of nursing. The same holds true for any new member of the team. It is long overdue for those good nurses to take a stand for what is the ethical way to behave and conduct ourselves as professionals. Evil or bad practices are allowed to flourish because good people turn a blind eye and do nothing.

Shannon Buckingham (8/3/2011 at 12:37 AM)
Thank GOD! somebody put this issue on the map and gave it a name! I have been a victim as well. But it was always so hard to report since the behavior is/was so passive-aggressive. The complainer always had the complaint thrown back in her face as if she was the problem,I too, have tried to identify/stop this terrible behavior but as you can imagine, it's a very difficult task with no help o suppot.At least now we have a starting point. I used to tell my husband, "You'd be surpeised at how Vicious!! nurses can be to one another when the general public thinks we are just sweet little angels of mercy" when in reality, we can be absolute DEVILS!! to each other

Ava Madison (12/20/2010 at 9:25 AM)
Dear Ms. Bartholomew, Our family just recently experienced a nightmarish experience at a leading Hospital, that resulted in the senseless death of a baby. I turned this in to management before the baby was cold. They accept no fault. I have turned it into every entity ( The Joint Commission, All State entities ect.) that I thought could do something about this to make sure no other family experiences this tragedy and no other baby senselessly losses it's life. everyone that we have told what happened looks at us in horror. It is about the most egregious sitution I have ever heard about. I would like to talk to you about it. Thank you and Merry Christmas.