Workplace bullying affects a quarter of Australian medical professionals and similar "insidious" levels are likely to be occurring in New Zealand, says a researcher.
A study of the Australian medical workforce found one in four doctors had experienced persistent bullying in the past year, which undermined their professional confidence or self-esteem, said University of Canterbury health sciences expert Professor Philip Schluter, who was involved in the research.
Of the 774 participants, 193 reported suffering bullying.
Described as "repeated systematic, interpersonal abusive behaviours that negatively affect the targeted individual and the organisation", workplace bullying includes behaviours that intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a worker.
Examples included junior staff being undermined by senior specialists and patients bullying doctors over diagnosis or treatment.
The culture and structure of the profession in Australia and New Zealand are similar, which often fostered bullying behaviours, said Mr Schluter.
"We do believe the environments are similar enough that we can probably generalise those results but we do need the New Zealand information."
The prevalence of workplace bullying in the whole medical workforce in New Zealand needs to be similarly studied, said Professor Schluter.
"We are looking to undertake more research into this area but we need to acknowledge the harmful effects of bullying and to ensure that anti-bullying policies and procedures are developed, documented and enacted."
The social and economic implications were wide reaching, with bullied doctors taking more sick leave, feeling less satisfied with their jobs, more likely to be to decrease the number of hours worked or ceasing direct patient care in the next five years, said Professor Schluter.
In Australia workplace bullying is estimated to cost the economy between $6 billion and $36 billion a year through lost productivity, absenteeism, greater staff turnover and higher rates of illness, accidents, disability and suicide.
"The healthcare sector is under stress. Nevertheless, it is every worker's moral and legal right to safe and healthy working conditions and an organisation where bullying occurs is not such an environment."
Practitioners needed to be alert for potential bullying and work to minimise the impact on staff health, retention, and patient care, said Professor Schluter.