A national study of workplace aggression in Australian clinical medical practice

Med J Aust. 2012 Sep 17;197(6):336-40. doi: 10.5694/mja12.10444.


Objective: To describe the 12-month prevalence of verbal or written and physical aggression from patients, patients' relatives or carers, coworkers and others in Australian clinical medical practice.

Design, setting and participants: An exploratory, descriptive study of cross-sectional survey design in the third wave (March 2010 to June 2011) of the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life longitudinal survey.

Main outcome measures: Proportions of clinicians reporting verbal or written and physical aggression from each aggression source and the significance of differences reported by doctor type, sex, international medical graduate status, age and postgraduate experience.

Results: Of 16,327 medical practitioners sampled, a response rate of 60.9% (9951) was achieved and 9449 (57.9%) were in Australian clinical practice. Participants comprised 3515 general practitioners and GP registrars, 3875 specialists, 1171 hospital non-specialists and 888 specialists in training. Overall, 70.6% of medical practitioners experienced verbal or written aggression and 32.3% experienced physical aggression from one or more sources in the previous 12 months. While patterns of exposure were complex, more female clinicians, international medical graduates (IMGs) and hospital-based clinicians experienced workplace aggression. Age and postgraduate experience were significantly negatively associated with aggression exposure.

Conclusions: This is the first nationwide study of workplace aggression from all sources experienced by all subpopulations of Australian medical clinicians. The findings suggest particular risks for younger and more junior hospital-based clinicians, and for IMGs in general practice. A failure to address this important professional and public health concern may contribute to ongoing challenges in the recruitment and retention of medical practitioners in an era of increasing shortages internationally.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Australia
  • Clinical Medicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • General Practice
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Physicians
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / statistics & numerical data*