Doctors Who Bully

By Anne-Marie Botek,

Bullies don’t disappear the day we kiss the halls of academia goodbye—they follow us into the “real world.” Oppressors find their way into practically every facet of our lives, showing up in the most unlikely places, including the exam room of your elderly loved one’s doctor’s office.

A confrontational nurse or an overbearing doctor can make appointments unpleasant, scary and even dangerous for a senior and their caregiver.

More dangerous than your average playground persecutor

A schoolyard bully might shove you off a swing, causing you to skin your knee, a doctor bully can undermine communication between nurses and other health care providers, potentially causing you to receive unnecessary treatment or undergo unnecessary surgery.

Research indicates that overbearing doctors whose demeanor discourages communication has a negative effect on the quality of care a person receives.

A study conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) revealed that 40% of health care providers didn’t voice their concerns regarding a patient’s medication because it meant that they had to question an oppressive doctor.

The same study revealed that rude, bullying behavior is pretty prevalent in the health care system. 60% of clinicians said that they experienced episodes of verbal abuse that could be categorized as “strong,” while almost 50% reported having to confront off-putting body language.

There are also dangers associated with doctors who harass their patients.

Similar to the nurses in the ISMP study, people who are constantly being intimidated by their doctors are less likely to say things that may ignite a physician’s fury. A person may be reluctant to share a troubling symptom or the fact that they are experiencing a new side effect if they are worried it will make a doctor angry.

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Doctors Who Bully originally appeared on

Awakening a doctor’s inner bully

What is it that causes a doctor to turn tyrant? An uncooperative patient could certainly do it.

Richard Kelley, M.D., founder of the “Physician’s Way Healthy Weight Loss,” clinic, says that if a doctor perceives that their patient is not taking their professional advice seriously, they may turn to other ways of motivating their reluctant charges.

When it comes to dealing directly with their patients, doctors generally take pains to maintain a pleasant bedside manner, but sometimes it can be difficult for doctors to keep their cool in the exam room.

Patients who self-diagnose or want to discuss the pros and cons of various treatment options with their doctors are becoming more numerous, putting a strain on the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

It’s certainly important for a patient or their caregiver to remain informed and discuss treatment options with a doctor, but physicians vary in their level of tolerance for lengthy talks. Twenty minutes is generally the maximum amount of time allotted for a typical appointment. This short time frame leaves little time for extra discussion.

Stress and fatigue can also inflame the situation, Kelley describes an instance when, after coming off a nightshift in the ER, he snapped at a patient who had not made progress in losing weight after one month of weight management therapy. He felt bad and later apologized to the woman, but she never returned to his clinic.

Using that incidence to motivate him, Kelley made it a goal of his to prioritize good relationships with his patients, making sure to always treat them as human beings, no matter the situation.

Slip-ups are inevitable Kelley says, particularly when one considers the rigors of a practicing physician’s life, but he feels that there is no excuse for consistently poor behavior.

Ronald Riggio, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert on intimidation in the workplace, also puts an emphasis on the constancy of the doctor’s behavior as the determining line between an isolated outburst and patient victimization.

According to Riggio, bullying behavior includes persistent insults, criticisms, and other actions that are done to exert power over or upset a targeted person.

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Take back your lunch money

If you feel that a doctor is behaving like a bully, either to you or your elderly loved one, you should speak up. Don’t just shrug off bad behavior that could be compromising the quality of care your loved one is receiving.

Doctors are experts in their field, but that does not exclude them from engaging in proper behavior when dealing with a patient or their caregiver. Confronting an abusive doctor by either calling them on their conduct or taking the matter to a supervisor is a good way to deal with the situation.

Standing up to a bully is not easy, but Riggio says that it’s usually an effective technique.

If the doctor chooses to persist with their intimidation, it is time to find a new care provider for your elderly loved one. You may also choose to report a doctor whose behavior has been particularly egregious to the state licensing board, medical society, or the American Medical Association. No one should be forced to tolerate harassment from anyone, let alone a person who is supposed to be looking out for their health and well-being.

As Kelley says, “A bully is a bully…even if he/she is wearing a long white coat and carrying a stethoscope.”

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Sally T.
Sally T4 years ago

"A doctor bully can undermine communication between nurses and other health care providers, potentially causing you to receive unnecessary treatment or undergo unnecessary surgery." - Damn right they can, and if youre very unlucky like my mother you'll find that the Cancer Diagnosis mysteriously doesnt make it's way from the USA Doctors to the UK GP who despite you falling rapidly into terminal illness cant haul his/her sorry arse off the couch and visit her even ONCE in 10days whilst we were all coming & going trying to look after her.
I still ask myself why 2 Doctors in my family who were also visiting Mum were also the only ones among us who didnt ONCE use hand gel, and one of whom repeatedly coughed directly towards her and also kissed her several times then went home to tell the other that they and my nieces were "coming down with heavy colds"... Right, because that's what you should do to a terminally ill person. Maximise their chances of contracting a cold, or something worse.

Melania Padilla
Melania P5 years ago


Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago

great info

Jennifer D.
Jennifer D5 years ago

I was put in the hospital over a weekend with no plan in sight. I asked my nurse the telephone number of my doctor and I called the doctor on a Sunday to try and find out the treatment plan. She tore me up so badly that I "dared to disturb her on her day off." I was so ridiculed and depressed, as soon as I got out of that hospital I reported her to my state board. She did not practice medicine for three months. There is no way that I will ever allow a doctor to treat me that way again.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

I've heard of these doctor bullies from my friends and family and it's very sad to hear how widespread this is. I hope they can come back to their senses and remember their motivations for wanting to be a doctor in the first place and their sincere desire to help people.

Lin Moy
Lin M5 years ago

I left one Dr that I'd never want to have use of again.

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

I've never heard of any such incident. I have had one unpleasant experience with only one doctor and I moved to another doctor immediately. She had the audacity to write a critical report about me when my file was passed to my new doctor.

Veronica C.
Veronica C5 years ago

Bad doctors can be anywhere. Even hospitals with good reputations can have bully doctors on their staff. I honestly can't think of anyone I know that has never had a bullying dr. situation at least once. Their ego and authority over us goes to their heads and they detest when we question or disagree with them. We have the right to do that, and they need to learn to admit when they are wrong or when they don't know. There are so many dr's who do not want patients to come in their offices informed. They want puppet patients, and people are waking up and not being puppets anymore. You know when you're not treated right. Take your money/insurance somewhere else.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Great info, sad it happens, do they forget why they became doctors? Thank you for article!

Anne G.
Anne G5 years ago

I guess I've been really lucky, too. I've had doctors that weren't the friendliest, but I wasn't seeing them to make friends, I wanted their expertise and that I got. I wonder why the TV series "Dr. House" is so popular, couldn't get a more obnoxious, arrogant, bullying doctor than him.