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Being bullied as a midwifery student: does age matter?

02 March 2020
Volume 28 · Issue 3


Clinical placement is a compulsory component of midwifery education and a time when some midwifery students become targets of workplace bullying. An anonymous, online qualitative survey was used to collect data from two contrasting groups of purposively recruited UK and Australian midwifery students that responded to a call for experiences of bullying while on clinical placement. Participants in group were either aged between 18–21 years (n=20) or over 43 years of age (n=20). The data collected from each group was thematically analysed and compared. While younger midwifery students have an additional power disadvantage compared to their older counterparts, the pattern of bullying experience between the two groups was remarkably similar. Younger students however, experience more verbal and overt forms, and are more likely to respond passively to the experience. Results are discussed in terms of impact on individual welfare and the viability of the profession.

The increased numbers of older students undertaking midwifery education (Carolan, 2011) adds an interesting dimension to the issue of bullying on clinical placement. With research on bullying still heavily focussed upon teenagers, this study examines the role of age in altering the bullying experience. Regardless of age, the risk of bullying is thought to be closely related to power differentials (Hodson et al, 2006), with age a potential avenue of power leverage.

The term ‘bullying’ tends to be limited to repeated unwanted behaviour from another that is malicious, abusive and intimidating in nature (Gillen et al, 2004). However, a single incident can be ‘enough’ to trigger lasting adverse consequences with a recent study suggesting this is particularly true in a healthcare student context (Boyle and Wallis, 2016).

Students enrolled in pre-registration midwifery programmes in Australia and the UK are required to undertake clinical placement in order to develop, and evidence the skills and knowledge required to gain professional registration as midwives (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council [ANMAC], 2014; Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2019). Several studies report that this gateway to the profession is tainted with bullying experiences (Gillen et al, 2008; 2009; McKenna and Boyle, 2016). Bullying has been linked to attrition from the profession, short- and long-term physical and mental illness, and even suicide (Hastie, 1996; Ball et al, 2002; Gillen et al, 2008).

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