I am a junior partner and I am finding a senior partner’s attitude towards me and other staff dogmatic, and bordering on bullying. How should I respond?
Jenny Law – online – 330×330
Dr Jenny Law: Keep a positive attitude
Partnership is not to be entered into lightly – choose your partners well and try to ensure you have a good partnership agreement in place. Recognise that the terms ‘senior and junior partner’ are now outdated. You all bear the same responsibilities and are entitled to be treated with equal respect.
Resilience and a positive attitude are needed, as changing behaviour can be very difficult. Document examples of bullying behaviour and keep a confidential record outside of the practice. Save any emails and take screenshots of comments. Do not react to bullying behaviour. Walk away or use humour. Be mindful of your physical and emotional reaction.
Decide how and when to confront your partner. Prepare what you want to say, where you’ll say it and whether you wish a colleague to be present. Confine your comments to the behaviour without saying it is making you feel bad. For example, say ‘Your comment of …. is unhelpful. I’d appreciate it if you stopped.’ Stay calm and self-assured. Aim to accomplish one small objective at a time. If the situation escalates, talk to the BMA or your LMC.
If you can stand up to the bully, you may be able to improve your situation. Try to get support, but be aware your colleagues may not see things your way or might be unwilling to get involved.
Partnerships mean that you will possibly be providing services with this troublesome partner until one of you resigns or retires, with no higher management to arbitrate on disputes or take disciplinary action. It might be easier to find another job. If you want to stay and do not believe you can successfully confront your partner, can you make changes that avoid the situations that allow bullying behaviour? If your colleague is approaching retirement or considering leaving the partnership, can you tough it out?
Dr Jenny Law is medical director for Londonwide LMCs and former chair of Lambeth LMC
Pipin Singh – online – 330×330
Dr Pipin Singh: Ascertain whether the behaviour is new or not
This can be an extremely tricky scenario, particularly if the behaviour is longstanding and deemed ‘normal’. Try to write specific incidents down so you have evidence. It would be useful to know if this is new behaviour. If so, it would be worth an informal discussion with your practice manager and other partners to see whether they have picked up on it.
If your suspicions are confirmed by others, you may wish to have an informal discussion with the partner. If you feel your relationship is strong, you may wish to do this outside the surgery and discuss your concerns and what you have observed. The senior partner may lack insight into their own behaviour, which may make it more difficult to approach, but if there has been a change in behaviour they may disclose an underlying cause.
If you feel another colleague has a stronger relationship and they share your concerns, they may be best placed to have the discussion. If the partnership relationships are more formal, it may need to be discussed in the surgery, and if it involves other staff, the practice manager may be best suited to do this.
If this is the partner’s ‘normal behaviour’ it will be very difficult to change the mindset of your colleagues and you may need to take advice from your LMC. The advice they give is generally confidential and may provide you with a practical approach.
Dr Pipin Singh is a GP in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear
Marika Davies – online – 330×330
The medicolegal view: Tell them you will take further action
Dealing with a difficult colleague is stressful and can affect both your professional and personal life. You should seek support from colleagues and take independent employment advice.
It is important to try to resolve the situation for your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues. It is also in the interest of your patients, as poor inter-professional relationships can have a detrimental effect on patient safety because staff may feel unable to raise concerns, which may put patients at risk.
Respect for others is an essential part of effective team working. The GMC expects doctors to work collaboratively with colleagues, respecting their skills and contributions. It also advises doctors to be aware of how their behaviour may influence others. ‘Doctors must encourage and support a culture in which staff can raise concerns openly and safely,’ it says.
When difficulties arise with your colleague you should emphasise the importance of achieving the best outcome for patients and attempt to negotiate a resolution. If you think your colleague is routinely putting you at risk and your attempts to give subtle feedback have not been effective, you should raise your concerns with them directly, making suggestions for improvements and framing the conversation in terms of the risk to everyone. You should emphasise that you are committed to taking action. Document your concerns.
Ultimately, if you are unable to improve the situation and you consider patients may be at risk, you should raise your concerns through the appropriate channels. The GMC says all doctors have a duty to do so if they believe patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues.
Dr Marika Davies is a medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection