Associate Professors of communication studies, Drs. Carol Mills and Heather Carmack, presented on bullying in health care organizations to an audience of medical personnel on November 6 at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mills and Carmack’s presentations were part of the larger engagement and outreach efforts of the National Communication Association’s (NCA) Anti-Bullying Task Force. In a partnership with Shriners Hospitals for Children, the presentations will be screened at all of their 22 hospital locations.
Mills’ research specializes in what is referred to as, “the dark side of communication,” or the role of communication in behaviors that negatively impact our personal and professional relationships such as bullying and domestic violence. Carmack is one of only three people globally whose research focuses on communication about and surrounding medical errors and patient safety. The duo is currently developing a research grant that will study the relationship between medical errors and bullying.
“There is research which suggests that whenever nurses or providers are bullied, it has a negative impact on patient outcomes, including medical error and patient safety,” Carmack said. “There’s plenty of theoretical thought pieces that connect bullying and medical errors, but there’s no current study that connects them empirically.”
According to Carmack, the hospital is known for being an environment where bullying exists at an institution level. In fact, nurses have one of the highest bullying rates of any profession nationwide.
“In healthcare a lot of bullying that happens is with the intention to squash and silence,” Carmack said. “If you don’t feel comfortable reporting others, or voicing concerns without some kind of retribution, that’s how medical errors happen.”
Together, the team saw this as a great opportunity to apply their research in helping make a difference and initiate a change in culture.
“As researchers, we spend a lot of time publishing our results, but if our research doesn’t actually help the people we’re studying, I think we’ve missed the mark,” said Mills, co-chair of the Anti-Bullying Task Force. “We know enough about bullying that we can help people who are targets, and we can help leaders create environments where bullying never happens because of the open, positive channels of communication.”
The National Communication Association’s Anti-Bullying Project strives to foster collaborations between Communication scholars and other stakeholders in anti-social aggression efforts in order to contribute rich insights and resources to broader conversations on the complex and multi-faceted issue of bullying.
The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.