Health care professionals’ perceptions of unprofessional behaviour in the clinical workplace

Kirsten F.A.A. Dabekaussen, Renée A. Scheepers, Erik Heineman, Adam L. Haber, Kiki M.J.M.H. Lombarts, Debbie A.D.C. Jaarsma, Jo Shapiro*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Background Unprofessional behaviour undermines organizational trust and negatively affects patient safety, the clinical learning environment, and clinician well-being. Improving professionalism in healthcare organizations requires insight into the frequency, types, sources, and targets of unprofessional behaviour in order to refine organizational programs and strategies to prevent and address unprofessional behaviours. Objective To investigate the types and frequency of perceived unprofessional behaviours among health care professionals and to identify the sources and targets of these behaviours. Methods Data was collected from 2017–2019 based on a convenience sample survey administered to all participants at the start of a mandatory professionalism course for health care professionals including attending physicians, residents and advanced practice providers (APPs) working at one academic hospital in the United States. Results Out of the 388 participants in this study, 63% experienced unprofessional behaviour at least once a month, including failing to respond to calls/pages/requests (44.3%), exclusion from decision-making (43.0%) and blaming behaviour (39.9%). Other monthly experienced subtypes ranged from 31.7% for dismissive behaviour to 4.6% for sexual harassment. Residents were more than twice as likely (OR 2.25, p<0.001)) the targets of unprofessional behaviour compared to attending physicians. Female respondents experienced more discriminating behaviours (OR 2.52, p<0.01). Nurses were identified as the most common source of unprofessional behaviours (28.1%), followed by residents from other departments (21%). Conclusions Unprofessional behaviour was experienced frequently by all groups, mostly inflicted on these groups by those outside of the own discipline or department. Residents were most frequently identified to be the target and nurses the source of the behaviours. This study highlights that unprofessional behaviour is varied, both regarding types of behaviours as well as targets and sources of such behaviours. This data is instrumental in developing training and remediation initiatives attuned to specific professional roles and specific types of professionalism lapses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0280444
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1 January
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding: The first author, KD, received financial
support from the Dutch Foundation “De Drie
Lichten”to cover the travel and housing expenses
to perform the research abroad at the Brigham and
Women’s Hospital. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision
to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright: © 2023 Dabekaussen et al.


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