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What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Do No Harm

by Annie

I changed careers at age 51. Being in management for 25 years, I thought I had seen it all, and experienced it all when it came to behavior. In that 25 years, I made an equal amount of friends and enemies. I took care of things. I had a no tolerance policy when it came to poor attendance, poor quality of work and negativity. I had employees threaten to slash my tires and they accused me of favoritism and racism, all because of their lack of accountability. I was tired. Although I was a good manager, I wanted to pursue my life long dream of becoming a Surgical Technologist. I was accepted into the program at the local community college in the fall of 2013.

My first semester of clinicals was at a new hospital in Novi, Mi. but in an old area on the hospital campus. The area I was assigned to was an ambulatory surgery department which had 4 OR's. It was a great learning environment. I occasionally worked in the new OR, but not independently.

My second semester was at a large hospital in Southfield known for it's state of the art cardiovascular care. It also had a thriving Orthopedic and Neuro Spine program. It was here I experienced surgeons' range of moods and personalities. I was asked as a student to "step back" from the field on two occasions; once in a large bowel resection performed by an Oncology Surgeon, and once in a Neuro Spinal Fusion. I never went back in a surgery with the oncologist, but did return to additional spinal fusions. I dreaded them each and every time, and attribute my fear and dread to the size of the case and my lack of experience.

In May 2014, I sat for the national exam for surgical technologists and passed easily. I applied for an Obstetrical Technician job at the hospital I was working at and was accepted part time. I had great experiences assisting surgeons and nurses with C/Sections. I learned along side of residents and students and thankfully was not the target of quizzing, and critiquing. And as much as I enjoyed this job, it was part time and less pay than Surgical Technologists were normally paid due to it being a union position. I committed to applying for any position posted at any hospital within a 30 mile radius. I would estimate I applied for 15 positions. Early July 2014, I received a call from human resources at the hospital I am employed at now. I interviewed with both HR, the department manager and the educator responsible for the department. Truthfully, I did not remember exactly what area I was interviewing for but once offered the position was pleased to find out it was a small ambulatory surgery center on the campus of the main hospital and was scheduled for Monday through Friday; no weekends or holidays. What I wasn't prepared for the dynamics of the working relationships and case mix. Most of the employees had been hired together 14 years ago and they had all worked with the surgeons for that time period. A new manager was brought in January 2014, and changes were being made. Problem employees were let go. Scrub techs and nurses were rotated rather than being with the same surgeons. This produced disgruntled surgeons, nurses and scrub techs.

I oriented throughout the OR in all specialties, especially breast surgeries. This is where my story begins. My experience and skills evolved and I felt confident scrubbing minor and major cases; minor being lumpectomies, partial and simple mastectomies and duct excisions. The major cases were mastectomies with sentinel node mapping and biopsies, axillary node dissections and bilateral mastectomies with and without the insertion of tissue expanders.

The surgeons had no problem telling me what their expectations were, and correcting me if I did something wrong and most were appropriate. Only one time did I excuse myself from the operative field and cried. The stress got to me, but so did the tone and delivery of one particular surgeon. She was demeaning. She was humiliating. Her words cut to the core, but I dried my tears and went back in the case. The surgeon remarked to my preceptor that she was glad I came back, but the bullying did not end. Each time I did a case, I was picked on and picked apart. I quizzed my co-workers and found that they did not share my experiences. I could not do anything right with this surgeon, but I kept accepting my assignment and performing it with dread. It set the mood for my whole day. I would go home feeling defeated. She hounded me on not draping fast enough, not having the right instruments, not anticipating effectively, not standing in the right area, moving too much, not moving enough, etc. Each and every thing, I apologized for, I tried to engage with her. I gave her credit and said she had the right to expect excellence.

I accepted her behavior until I realized it was personal. This particular incident, in front of the breast "fellow", she yelled at me about moving things and told me I had to fix it. I was humiliated. When my case was over, I saw I was assigned to her cases the following day and told the service lead that I would like to be taken out of her room. She told me it wasn't possible and she and I agreed I need to suck it up. The next day, I reported to our room and set up for the case. I helped retract as the surgeon interacted with the breast "fellow" about the case and other topics. At some point the surgeon told me to let go of the retractor, but I was not paying attention and she had to repeat herself. Again, I did not realize she was talking to me and she smacked my hand. I immediately looked up at the circulator in the room and we both raised our eyebrows in surprise. I recoiled and apologized. Having realized what she had done, the surgeon began to thank me and tell me what a great job I had done and that I had improved from the day before. I was dumbfounded as well as humiliated. My feelings and intuition was right on. I was being bullied at 53 years old, I was being bullied.

This just occurred this past week, and I have decided that I am going to request a transfer to another area.

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