A survey of threats and violent acts by patients against training physicians


C Gale Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand



The primary purpose was to determine the prevalence of various types of threats or assaults by patients against training physicians and to determine the psychological impact of the most distressing incidents. Differences between specialty of training and gender were examined.


An anonymous mailed questionnaire.


The Medical School of the University of Auckland, New Zealand.


All 160 postgraduate trainees in psychiatry, general medicine, surgery, and obstetrics and gynaecology. A response rate of 84% (n=135) was obtained.


The majority of trainees had been verbally threatened (n=91, 67%) or physically intimidated (n=73, 54%) at some time during specialty training, while another 41% (n=55) had witnessed Health Board property being damaged in their presence and 39% (n=53) had been physically assaulted. Psychiatry trainees were significantly more likely to experience the various types of threat or violence. Females (n=20, 38%) were significantly more likely than men (n=8, 10%) to report having been sexually harassed (χ2=14, d.f.=1, P < 0·001). The overall mean on the Impact of Event Scale for those who described the most distressing incident was 8. On only one occasion was a training director directly informed about a trainee’s most distressing incident and most trainees (n=95, 70%) had not had training on protecting against assault or on managing violence.


These findings underscore a priority for developing programmes which effectively reduce threats and violence against trainees and which lessen the psychological sequelae of these incidents.