By FlexMedStaff with contributions from Deb Kiehlmeier

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Gaslighting is a psychological term that describes repeated abusive tactics one individual uses against another. The offender is manipulative, misleading, and dishonest toward their victim. This leads to the victim psychologically suffering from anxiety, confusion, mistrust, lower self-esteem, and self-doubt. 

Gaslighting is not a new term. It dates back to a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, later developed into the movie ‘Gaslight’ by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. In the film, the manipulative husband tries to make his wife think she’s losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, such as dimming the flame on her gas lamp slowly. He disrupts her environment in different ways until she begins to second-guess herself and become unsure of what’s true and what isn’t. This type of manipulative behavior became known as gaslighting. The victims essentially begin to feel uncertain of their thoughts, question their feelings and actions, and lose self-confidence.

The term gaslighting has become more popular in the last several years due to its usage in the political arena. Although the term may be misused, the phenomenon of Gaslighting is all too common from locums recruiters. Locums recruiters have been known to lie, misinform and manipulate their relationship with physicians, leading the physicians to feel anxious, lost, confused, and deceived. The lack of transparency in the locums industry, especially from the middleman, leads some physicians to question if their recruiters have gaslighted them. Although the psychological harm caused by recruiters may not be as severe as that seen by victims of domestic abuse, a physician should always ask, “am I being gaslighted by my recruiter?” We provide examples of how gaslighting occurs in the locums industry.

Withholding: This is a technique recruiters use to purposefully withhold information from an individual to make them question reality.

Example of Recruiter: “Dr. X, I have never heard of a physician in your specialty being offered that much. The most I can get you for this highly desirable opportunity is $135 per hour.” BUT in reality, we could pay you much more.

Trivializing: This is a technique used by recruiters to trivialize a legitimate concern or question from an individual.

Example of Recruiter: “It’s just holding the pager overnight. You would not have to come in or anything.” BUT in reality, we did not clarify with the facility the actual volume of work after hours.

Denial: This technique recruiters use to hide meaningful information by purposefully not taking responsibility for something and placing blame on someone else.

Example of Recruiter: “We agreed to remove the non-compete in your contract.” BUT in reality, we will keep the facility’s non-compete in place. 

Countering: This technique is used by recruiters to make you question your understanding of the process.

Example of Recruiter: “You must sign the PSA before we can present you for this opportunity.” BUT in reality, a recruiter only needs your CV to present you to a facility. The PSA can be signed later.  

Diverting: This technique is used by recruiters to hide the truth from individuals by diverting the topic to something else.

Example of Recruiter: “The hospital has not confirmed you for the assessment yet.” BUT in reality, the recruiter may be stalling to tell the practitioner what is happening behind the scenes.   

Stereotyping: This technique is used by recruiters to clump all practitioners into one group to make an individual feel like an outsider. 

Example of Recruiters: “This is a great opportunity and will not last long as they have several well-qualified candidates interested.” BUT in reality, the recruiter is pressuring you to accept the assignment or provide a CV so that they can get a practitioner to agree to something they don’t want to.

Final Thoughts:

Due to a lack of transparency in the locums industry, it is not uncommon for practitioners to feel gaslighted by their recruiters. Practitioners can feel misled and misinformed by their recruiters, which leads to confusion, anxiety, stress, and self-doubt. These are all the feelings of being gaslighted. This article raises awareness of some of the gaslighting techniques used by locums recruiters. While it is not uncommon to be gaslighted, one must recognize that not all locums recruiters behave this way. It’s worth stating that gaslighting can be seen in other areas of medicine. When you start to question yourself and your recruiter, step back and ask yourself, “have I been gaslighted?”

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