Why are Physicians Angry?

Anger is a normal human emotion experienced by people from all walks of life and all professions. It is primitive and all-pervasive. Nobody can prevent the onslaught of anger. Being in the medical profession is not a ticket to an anger-free life. Physicians experience anger as much as their patients.

It is a long hard road from high school to medical college. This road is paved with pebbles, stones and big fat boulders. Medical school students go through a whole lot of stuff before they become full-fledged practicing physicians. Arduous examinations and demanding internships are just the beginning. Even seasoned physicians experience rage when faced with situations beyond their control.

The medical workplace is charged with injury, disappointment, hope, relief and death. In a place that’s so highly strung with emotions, anger is bound to make an appearance. Normally, physicians work grueling hours at a stretch sometimes without a break. Most of them are on call 24/7. Personal life often takes a backseat. Stress builds up over time and ultimately gives way to anger and hostility.

Physician anger is a product of situations that are beyond their control. At an early stage in their career, physicians are trained to be detached, cool and clinical when it comes to dealing with patients. However, this makes it tough for patients to open up and express feelings. Numerous patients refuse treatment that could save their lives or make things better for them. This refusal stems out of ignorance and fear of the unknown. Physicians experience a sense of frustration when dealing with such patients. To make matters worse, physicians are always under pressure to save lives and mend life-threatening wounds. If things go wrong, irate patients and their families are ever willing to file malpractice suits. Some physicians face life and death situations everyday. In the worst of circumstances emotions are bottled up and kept carefully under wraps. This is bound to have some effect on the psyche of a physician.

Disruptive and disorderly behavior among physicians is becoming a frequent occurrence in medical workplaces. Physicians retaliate in several ways. Inattention to superiors and intimidation of those under their authority may be the early symptoms of anger in physicians. Unprofessional behavior, moodiness and failure to answer to calls may be a few other signals that something is amiss. As soon as these signals are evident, medical directors, partners and other personnel in authority must intervene before things get out-of -hand.       

Dealing with Physician Anger: Physicians are generally resistant to any kind of proposed help and most often will not even be aware that something is wrong. Convincing a physician that all is not well with him requires patience, tact and sensitivity. However, when higher authorities intervene and give honest feedback, most physicians will accept that their behavior is not entirely normal. Once, this is accomplished they should be convinced to seek help through appropriate anger management programs. Medical supervisors and partners should assure the professional full support and co-operation in dealing with anger related issues. If the physician is overly hesitant about seeking help, emphasis should be made on the outcomes of his disruptive actions like loss of medical license and removal from duties. Monitoring the physician’s on-duty behavior by his colleagues is also an option.

Emotional Intelligence for Physician Anger: Physicians are taught to shield themselves against emotions at an early stage in their career. Experts say that this is the root cause for disruptive and abusive behavior among physicians. Pent-up emotions take a toll and result in chronic depression and frustration, in some cases violent outbursts of fury. Emotional Intelligence implies being aware, understanding and controlling your own emotions and those of others. If physicians are encouraged to express feelings and emotions, they’ll be more sensitive while dealing with patients and less prone to fits of anger. Developing emotional intelligence is the need of the hour to minimize physician anger.

Anger Management Institute of Texas’ Executive Coaching Program is utilized by management of accredited hospital/organizations for physicians displaying disruptive behaviors in the workplace.

Anger Management Institute of Texas is a certified Anderson & Anderson ® provider.

Gregory A. Kyles, M.A., LPC, CEAP, CAMF
Director, Anger Management Institute of Texas
Diplomate, President of Texas Chapter
American Association of Anger Management Providers