Abusive Character and Medical Malpractice

December 2, 2008

Arrogant, Abusive and Disruptive — and a Doctor

It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.

The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he was vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry.

After a second page, Ms. Silverthorn said, “he became arrogant and said, ‘You don’t know what to look for — you’re not a doctor.’ ”

He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home. The child was rushed into surgery.

“He could have died or had serious brain injury,” Ms. Silverthorn said, “but I was treated like a pest for calling in the middle of the night.”

Her experience is borne out by surveys of hospital staff members, who blame badly behaved doctors for low morale, stress and high turnover. (Ms. Silverthorn said she had been brought to tears so many times that she was trying to start her own business and leave nursing.)

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