Message to the MUHC Community: Towards a new culture of professional conduct

Published: 3 October 2001

The following message was sent today to all personnel of the MUHC by Executive Director, Dr Hugh Scott.

The recent incident at the Montreal General Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre during which a nurse suffered tendon damage to her wrist as a result of an altercation with a surgeon is now before a disciplinary committee of the MUHC Council of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists. The committee will conduct an inquiry into the facts of this incident and a recommendation will be made to the Board of Directors on what steps should be taken. The Board has asked the Council to report as quickly as possible. The process is expected to take several weeks.

This event has served to focus attention within our hospitals and in the community on the broader issue of what constitutes appropriate conduct between health care professionals.

The network of MUHC hospitals has a long tradition of providing leadership in the field of health care and we are justly proud of this reputation. Sadly, in this one area, by allowing a culture of silent acquiescence to prevail, we have failed. Abusive behaviour towards colleagues is the exception rather than the rule, but nonetheless, the MUHC has lived with a pattern of such conduct for too long.

It is not an acceptable excuse to say that similar behaviour occurs in other hospitals. It is not reasonable to use nursing shortages, waiting times for surgery or any other problem of our health care system as a justification for such conduct. We cannot explain away this persistent pattern by blaming it on a few individuals. We are all responsible when we tolerate the unacceptable.

Eliminating this kind of behaviour once and for all is the best and only way to move forward. Our goal must be to become a leader in building a culture of collegiality based on mutual respect, understanding, and support among health care professionals and all members of staff. We are convinced that this will result in better patient care. It will also be an important legacy of teaching-by-example to future generations of doctors, nurses and others who train and work in our hospitals.

I will be chairing a special task force of senior managers to lead this process. At our first meeting, we agreed to put in place the following measures:

  • A special ombudsman position will be created to provide counseling and support to personnel who experience discrimination or abuse from colleagues.
  • Training will be provided to a team of counselors who will work with this ombudsman to provide counseling, mediation and awareness education about appropriate professional conduct in the workplace.
  • A special phone line will be established so individuals can call to report any abusive incidents and receive immediate assistance.
  • The work of the non-violence committee made up of representatives of different professional groups including unions will be accelerated. By the end of October, this committee will bring forward an over-all policy that defines abusive conduct by staff, patients or visitors and that establishes clearer MUHC-wide procedures on how such incidents will be reported and dealt with.
  • Stronger professional conduct by-laws will be brought to the MUHC Board of Directors for approval at the November meeting. Adherence to the terms of these by-laws will govern the conditions of employment and physician privileges.

These measures are a first step. We must go beyond zero-tolerance to build a positive culture of humane and caring professional conduct. We owe this to each other and to the community we serve.

Hugh Scott
Executive Director, MUHC

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