New ACP Policy Addresses Workplace Safety for Physicians, Health Care Workers

Advocate Masthead

Position statement released after a year of researching, reviewing and updating the proposed resolution

Oct. 1, 2021 (ACP) – Workplace violence -- including discrimination, harassment, racism, threatening behaviors, physical harm and even homicide -- has long been an issue for physicians and health care clinicians, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

Fully half of health care workers reported experiencing workplace violence across multiple settings, including hospitals, emergency departments, outpatient clinics and other settings, according to a 2019 study in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The issue has been on the radar of the American College of Physicians Council of Early Career Physicians (CECP) for some time, explained Dr. Tiffany I. Leung, immediate past chair of the CECP. The council sought to draft a resolution on this issue well before the COVID-19 pandemic due to member concerns, she said.

And after a year spent researching, reviewing and updating the proposed resolution, ACP recently issued a position statement addressing issues related to workplace safety for physicians and health care workers.

“The key part of the final resolution is that ‘ACP believes physicians and other health care workers have a right to deliver care under conditions that do not impair their health and well-being,’” Leung said.

The new workplace violence policy calls for legislative efforts to rein in violence and bolster workplace safety and urges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other government bodies to develop, implement and enforce a national standard to address workplace violence in health care. Physicians and other health care clinicians should be encouraged to report all incidents and participate in workplace violence prevention and response training. In addition, ACP calls for more research to get a better handle on the prevalence of violence in health care settings and to understand how it affects health care workers and how it can be prevented.

How an Idea Becomes a Position Statement

It took about one year to pass the new resolution, and the process was rather smooth, Leung said.

Any ACP chapter, council or committee can submit a resolution to the ACP Board of Governors. If a chapter submits the resolution, it typically means it has already been vetted and approved by the chapter's Governor's Council. “If an ACP member is part of an ACP council or committee, they can also write and submit resolutions through those bodies,” Leung said.

ACP makes the process as seamless as possible. The staff provides a resolution writing checklist, which is helpful for those unfamiliar with the special kind of writing involved in crafting one, Leung said.

The CECP has a strong history of submitting resolutions on important topics for physicians. “We took great care to thoroughly describe important gaps and make a clear ask of what the ACP can do to help address those gaps,” she explained. “We also vetted the resolution language thoroughly within members of the CECP and sought co-sponsorship frequently from the Council of Student Members, Council of Resident and Fellow Members and chapters as well.”

Once a resolution is drafted, it can be submitted to ACP, Leung said. There are two specific deadlines each year for submission. The resolution is then presented to the ACP Board of Governors.

“The procedures that follow for deliberation and voting leading up to and then during the Board of Governors meeting ensure that all chapters and councils have an opportunity to weigh in on the resolution,” she said. “Usually, resolutions are modified or revised along the way based on all input provided.”

This is an essential part of the ACP democratic process and a key way that members can engage in shaping how ACP responds to specific needs as an organization, Leung said.

A policy starts with an idea. If individual members are passionate about a topic and want to make change, the first step is to contact their chapter governor to engage in resolution writing and submission.

“Resolutions have the potential to influence College policies, positions, and other important initiatives that can, in turn, influence the practice of medicine and learning environments for students, residents and fellows as well,” Leung said.

Leung encourages members to make noise and enact change in other ways as well. “ACP members can engage directly in advocacy by meeting with state legislators in their state capitol (some chapters have their own state-level Leadership Day) or in Washington, D.C., at ACP Leadership Day,” she said. “These usually also mean contact with a chapter governor if such advocacy is pursued in alignment with ACP's policy agenda.”

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