Background: This study concerns the occurrence of various forms of mistreatment by staff and fellow students experienced by students in the Faculty of Medicine and the other four faculties of the University of Oulu, Finland.
Methods: A questionnaire with 51 questions on various forms of physical and psychological mistreatment was distributed to 665 students (451 females) after lectures or examinations and filled in and returned. The results were analysed by gender and faculty. The differences between the males and females were assessed statistically using a test for the equality of two proportions. An exact two-sided P value was calculated using a mid-P approach to Fisher's exact test (the null hypothesis being that there is no difference between the two proportions).
Results: About half of the students answering the questionnaire had experienced some form of mistreatment by staff during their university studies, most commonly humiliation and contempt (40%), negative or disparaging remarks (34%), yelling and shouting (23%), sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based mistreatment (17%) and tasks assigned as punishment (13%). The students in the Faculty of Medicine reported every form of mistreatment more commonly than those in the Faculties of Humanities, Education, Science and Technology. Experiences of mistreatment varied, but clear messages regarding its patterns were to be found in each faculty. Female students reported more instances of mistreatment than males and were more disturbed by them. Professors, lecturers and other staff in particular mistreated female students more than they mistreated males. About half of the respondents reported some form of mistreatment by their fellow students.
Conclusion: Students in the Faculty of Medicine reported the greatest amount of mistreatment. If a faculty mistreats its students, its success in the main tasks of universities, research, teaching and learning, will be threatened. The results challenge university teachers, especially in faculties of medicine, to evaluate their ability to create a safe environment conducive to learning.