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Bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace


There is no room for bullying or sexual harassment at Cairns Hospital, or in any workplace. There has been increased media highlighting and recognising the problems often faced by doctors in training.


     Discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment can be:

Making ‘jokes’ about another colleagues sex, race, sexuality, age etc.

Expressing negative stereotypes about certain groups or people.

Commenting on appearances

Behaviour which causes humiliation or intimidation

Sexually explicit emails, texts, comments or sexually suggestive behaviour.


This could be from peers, senior colleagues or even from patients. It should not be tolerated.

Often intimidating, and a challenge to respond to, especially between junior and senior colleagues.


     Legal aspect:

Both sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace bullying are all illegal.


     If I am feeling bullied or harassed, what do I do?

Contact someone you feel comfortable talking to- your supervisor, director, or come along to the post graduate medical education unit.

This can be investigated confidentially, and sensitively.

See the resources at the bottom of the page for more information.


       How do I respond to a colleague who makes inappropriate comments?

This is a challenge especially if it involves senior colleagues. There is often no perfect response, but using phrases such as ‘that is inappropriate’ or ‘that makes me feel really uncomfortable’. Should you not feel comfortable about making a reply then report this behaviour to your supervisor, or the PMEU.


     How do I respond to a patient who makes inappropriate comments?

Again challenging as we rely on the doctor-patient relationship to build rapport and trust. However this does not mean we should tolerate offensive comments.

Sometimes this is in the context of mental health, drug and alcohol problems. Some people manage this with jokes, others by politely but firmly telling the patient that those behaviours are inappropriate and will not be tolerated.

If uncomfortable with a patient, then your safety is the most important thing, and you should leave and ask a senior colleague to manage the patient. If the patient is aggressive then consider security present and verbal de-escalation techniques.

Often with sexual harassment asking a male (or female) colleague to manage the patients care helps to remove you from the situation.


     Supporting colleagues

We should aim to support our colleagues if we notice this behaviour. It is often easier to speak out on other people’s behalf, or check afterwards if your colleague is ok. Encouraging colleagues to seek senior support or to report this behaviour is really useful, as often the victim feels vulnerable or scared to seek further help.


In November we will have MIPS attending resident teaching where they will discuss some legal issues faced by doctors, including bullying and harassment. On November the 22nd the AMA will be giving a talk to the interns about how we can approach this in the workplace.


Useful links to Queensland health guides:

Sexual harassment

Workplace discrimination

AMAs views on bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.


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