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Kathleen Bartholomew: Standing Up to Physician Bad Behavior

   December 02, 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.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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