What do you do if a doctor yells at you?

Nurses General Nursing


I'm a student (I haven't started clinicals yet) and I've been thinking about this. I hear people who say they come up with cutesy jokes or lines to throw back at them, and comedy is a great tension breaker and relationship-saver but I also wonder if it undermines the fact that it's at a minimum rude or sometimes probably could be considered abusive in the context of any other relationship (I've heard of objects being thrown?!). For example, I've seen a "Dr. Paddle" on the wall in a unit, hahaha how cute. Not! To me that is sort of akin to an abused wife saying "oh, you know, he doesn't *mean* anything by the things he says..."

I hear it so often, it seems like pretty much all nurses get yelled at by doctors - is this the case? I am not a hothead by any means and I've got thick skin, but I'm not sure how I'll be dealing with the principle of that kind of unprofessionalism and disrespect. I'm just curious to hear your experiences.

PS... also curious to hear if the male nurses get it equally as often as the females (and I know this has to be "no").


491 Posts

I would give the "evil eye" and say something like, "perhaps you'd like to change your tune...quickly". In the er where I work, the nurses stick together and if someone is abusive to one nurse, they will quickly regret it. The one thing I wouldn't do is to say look down and say Ok, whatever and walk away. But, if someone (anyone) in a code situation says "get this now!" I wouldn't take it personally.

orrnlori, RN

549 Posts

My observations is that male nurses DO NOT get yelled at. I think it's a male thing. Doctors may think twice before yelling at someone who could deck them if they chose to. Maybe that's it. :chuckle

Now as for abusive doctors. I can only think of one doctor that I work near that if he were to have an MI, and I was the only one in the room, I'd step over his body and go get a cup of coffee. :devil: He could drop dead tomorrow and I wouldn't feel a thing about it. But I work with probably somewhere around 45-50 surgeons (including the residents) and he's the only one who is abusive, the rest are pretty good guys and I enjoy working with them. And also, the one and only time the above doctor screamed at me, I wrote up a 2 page report, forwarded it to HR, and then told the director of the OR that if he screamed at me again, I would file complaints with every applicable department in the hospital and then get an attorney because it was a hostile work enviornment and sexual harrassment (he never yells at the male nurses, ever). I think they took me at my word because they never put me in an OR with him. But I work in a university hospital and the nurses are very autonomous here. Truly bad behavior is not acceptable. We don't have to take a lot of crap off anyone. I don't know what I'd do in a private hospital but I think it would depend on what happened. There's a difference between snide and petty remarks by a physician and true verbal abuse. Throwing things is assault.

I actually get angier at how some fellow nurses act, I think they are many times worse than the doctors.

allnurses Guide

Spidey's mom, ADN, BSN, RN

11,302 Posts

I've never been "yelled at" by a doctor. I was in a delivery where a doc asked in a loud tone of voice for the patient to be put in a position to facilitate delivery when the baby's shoulder was stuck but I don't consider times of high stress and raised voices to be rude. We work in profession where scary things can happen and everyone can get a little mouthy - even nurses. :chuckle

Personally I would treat a doctor or nurse or aid who "yelled at" me the way I hope I would be treated. Taken to a private area and have a little chat. I don't think acting all this out in front of patients or co-workers is right.

I have been treated rudely by other nurses however but not yelled at.

One thing that drives me crazy is public displays of anger with our co-workers. All that needs to be done behind closed doors.


Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,237 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

I've been a nurse for 12 years in a high - stress ER - never been yelled at by any co-worker. Would NEVER tolerate it! However, we don't always say please and thank-you. As in, "please start CPR", please place an IV in an obviously critically ill child, etc. Don't worry! I also don't think the Dr Paddle is cute - its offensive and belittles the staff as professionals.


14 Posts

Take it from a student nurse who just graduated the other day. DOn't worry about the doctors! Ya some can be jerks but you feel them out pretty fast. All I can say is stand up for yourself. I have had a few docs wich I dread calling or talking to but you do it because it is for your patients well being. Just approach them "knowing" your patient and make sure you have checked the doctors notes andchart out first....oh ya and make notes before talking to them! This always helps if you are getting frustrated....it helps to refocus and keep on track.

TIPS: It may be the hardest thing to do but make sure you have a private conversation with the individual after and let them know you did not appreciate their behavior (doctor or any other health care professional!). Don't put up with anything just because you are a student! Remember you have your instructors to support you when you are a student. When you graduate you are more or less on your own. Use your resources while you have them. Talk with your instructor re: conflict resoluition tactics!

Tweety, BSN, RN

33,525 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac.

Fortunately I haven't been "yelled" at either. Usually when a doc is acting the fool though, she/he needs something addressed that we've messed up and I just deal with the issue and ignore the behavior. Usually, I'm appalled or embarrassed at what they are upset at, like us not following simple orders like I&O's, or feeding a patient that should be npo, or something, I let them rant and don't let them bother me.

Specializes in Registered Nurse.

i have been actually *yelled at* a handful of times in 14+ years. the *yelling* was not very loud. one doctor made me cry. i think that's pretty good, considering the years i have been a nurse. most doctors i have known are fairly courteous and professional. as i recall, the few *yelling* incidents were met by my silence, and, in one case, my tears. if a doctor was really verbally abusive or inappropriate, i would report him in a heartbeat, esepcially now that i am older and wiser.


6,620 Posts

Although rare, I usually treat rude behaviour by saying "We can continue this conversation when you feel you are able to speak to me respectfully" and walk away. I have said a few snappy comebacks over the years and they feel soooooooo good, but aren't always that useful.

Specializes in Inpatient Acute Rehab.

I used to take whatever bull the docs gave out. Now, after 19 years, I take no bull. If a doc gets mouthy face to face, I just look at them and ask them if they think this verbal abuse helps anything. Most of the time they stop. If it is over the phone, I just remind them that it is their patient that is in need of something, they can either give me an order now, or get called at 0300. It's their choice. That usually calms them down.

But for the most part, the docs where I work are good team players, and trust the judgement of us nurses.

Headhurt, ADN

202 Posts

Specializes in Oncology RN.

I've worked as a tech at the same hospital for the past 7 years. I have seen and heard many a doctor yell at a nurse, and only one nurse stands up for herself. Everyone else just remains quiet.

My issue comes from some of these doctors who blame everything that goes wrong on the nurse. A patient got an infection in their surgical incision, and it was the type of infection that can only occur in the OR...and it was the floor nurse's fault. The patient has to have their joint revised, and that was the nurse's fault (even though the patient was noncompliant at home). It seems that there are a lot of doctors who will pass blame onto the nurse in order to redeem themselves in the eye of their patient. Too often, this leads to the patient not trusting in the care the nurse gives them because the doctor has openly called the nursing staff at such and such hospital incompetent. Oh yeah? If we are so incompetent, why don't you just peddle your wares at another hospital?? :angryfire

AND I agree that the docs won't yell at the male nurses. Heck, most male nurses where I work at are on first name basis with the docs.

I do have a question. I have heard that doctors in community hospitals are more apt to yell at nurses than those who are at teaching hospitals. Do you find this to be true, or it is because the nurses in teaching hospitals are more autonomous?

tiroka03, LPN

393 Posts

Specializes in LPN.

Starting at 10pm and needing to call the doctor over something which needed to be attended to during the day will make me mad. If the doctor makes a comment I tell them I just came on duty so I couldn;t have called sooner. Usually they are very good at giving me the things I need, and their comments then are about tell the pm shift to get on the ball.

Of course we do have doc's who even though paid to be on-call, think they are being paid extra to sleep that night.

I would never call over something which could wait till morning. But, it's usually the doctors inability to perscribe pain meds after a major surgery who is at fault for the call, or at least the admitting nurse who didnt care to check for pain control. We once had a COPD pt admitted with a major flare-up. We weren't given nebs, inhalors, 02 limits anything. When the doctor cant forsee we may need meds for the person he admits - well it's his fault he gets a call. I say WAKE UP doctor when you write the orders - or get woken up later by nurses who have no choice but to be awake. :angryfire

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