Does Anger Management Work for Disruptive Doctors?

A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Health News story about anger management led with an anecdote about a surgeon who broke a scrub tech’s finger by slamming down an improperly loaded instrument. The surgeon was suspended for 2 weeks and had to take an anger management course, which seems like a mighty small penalty for what could be described as assault. But the story had to go where many such tales seem to go these days. Here’s a quote: “Experts estimate that 3 to 5 percent of physicians engage in such behavior, berating nurses who call them in the middle of the night about a patient, flinging scalpels at trainees who aren’t moving fast enough, demeaning co-workers they consider incompetent or cutting off patients who ask a lot of questions.” Demeaning co-workers and berating nurses who call in the middle of the night? Yes, these things unfortunately do occur. But “flinging scalpels at trainees”? Sorry, I don’t think so. But of course, exaggeration is a common feature of articles about doctors, especially if the story wants to portray us in a negative way. I was a surgical chairman for many years. I know all about disruptive doctors. In a recent blog, I even admitted to throwing an instrument myself once when I was a young and headstrong resident. A link in the story goes to a full text paper on disruptive behavior in the Journal of Medical Regulation (who knew there was such a journal?). The author points out that isolated episodes of what some might consider bad behavior can happen, but unless there is a pattern or the incident was...