Creating a positive learning environment: An anti-bullying initiative

Lynley Anderson1, Althea Blakey2, Kelby Smith-Han3, Tim Wilkinson4, Liz Berryman5

1 Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, PO Box 56 Dunedin,
2 Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, PO Box 56 Dunedin,
3 Anatomy Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin,
4 Programme Director, Otago Medical School, University of Otago, PO Box 46, Dunedin,
5 Medical student, Otago Medical School, University of Otago, PO Box 46, Dunedin,

Health professional students commonly describe mixed experiences in their interactions with staff within busy clinical areas. These experiences, both positive and negative, are well-described within the literature both internationally and nationally.1 Recent local media reports from the NZMSA and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons attest to the fact that not all students fare well during their training.2,3 These reports reveal that the toll on students can actually be significant and long lasting: from doubts about career choice, failure to learn, stress and mental health issues, to a  fostering of the persistent negative behaviours themselves to go on and affect the next generation of students.4,5 With the support of the Division of Health Sciences, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, and the School of Nursing, Otago Polytechnic the CAPLE team is piloting a set of interventions within a clinical department with the aim of improving the working environment for all.

This project is informed by two literature reviews. the first identified the nature and prevalence of the problem; the second explored the success or otherwise of the interventions that have been tried. The CAPLE project pilot now takes a deliberate new approach and the engages actively with staff through participatory action research.6 Researchers from the CAPLE project work closely alongside these staff, providing interventions that have been selected and determined by those receiving the intervention. Pre and post ‘climate’-testing provides data to determine the success of the pilot by measuring how the working environment ‘feels’ for all staff. In this workshop we aim to discuss the reasoning for the current project design, seek critique about this methodology and to introduce some of the topics we taught during the study. Thus, the workshop will contain input from participants. Following testing of the CAPLE programme this year, we hope to expand the project in 2017 by exploring what would work in other clinical areas.


  1. Wilkinson, T. J., Gill, D. J., Fitzjohn, J., Palmer, C. L., & Mulder, R. T. (2006). The impact on students of adverse experiences during medical school. Medical teacher, 28(2), 129-135.
  2. NZMSA (2015). Final results for NZMSA Survey: Release to TV One, Auckland, New Zealand.
  3. Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, About Respect: Addressing bullying and harassment [Accessed 17 June 2016]
  4. Nielsen, M. B., Tangen, T., Idsoe, T., Matthiesen, S. B., & Magerøy, N. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of bullying at work and at school. A literature review and meta-analysis. Aggression and violent behavior, 21, 17-24.
  5. Gullander, M., Hogh, A., Hansen, Å. M., Persson, R., Rugulies, R., Kolstad, H. A. & Bonde, J. P. (2014). Exposure to workplace bullying and risk of depression. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56(12), 1258-1265.
  6. Herr, K., & Anderson, G. L. (2014). The action research dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Sage Publications.


A/P Lynley Anderson: clinical experience in physiotherapy, policy making, codes of conduct, ethics and professional development teaching.

Althea Blakey: clinical experience in radiation oncology, PhD developing thinking and values in medical education.

Kelby Smith-Han: clinical experience in mental health and psychology, PhD in medical education.

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