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Tall Poppy, a term frequently used among Australians and Europeans, was something I had never heard of while growing up in the United States. In fact, my introduction to the term happened when I sent an email to administration at an Australian hospital, where I had considered spending time as a visiting professor, making them aware I had resigned my position with a county health system. With a simple, four-word response — “Were you Tall Poppied?” — the administrator had unknowingly started my now-10-year fascination with unveiling the truth behind the term.
As with many of my colleagues, I completed my residency following my military obligation with the U.S. Army. As an orthopedist, I did my subspecialty training at a large rehabilitation center and teaching hospital in southern California and remained on staff after completion of my fellowship. Vastly different indeed, but also similar to my experience with the composition of teams and units while serving in Vietnam, this period of time allowed me to excel with the interdependent team model. Before long, I was the director of four different services and, eventually, the umbrella director of 150 beds.
During this time, I witnessed a vast range of workplace bullying, although I somehow escaped being the target; in the medical profession bullying is pervasive, with its conservative, traditional hierarchical structure. Thirty years later, with long-time assistants and secretaries retiring, associates accepting other positions, and replacement medical staff becoming younger and younger, the ultimate blow came after my medical director retired.
I was sent a request to relinquish my office — the final straw in the hierarchy system — and I resigned my position with the county health system. It was then, after having been in discussions to train staff in rehabilitation centers across Australia, I heard the term Tall Poppy.
After sending an email to my Australian contact, and receiving the responding email asking if I’d been Tall Poppied, I began my journey into uncovering the meaning and truth behind this term and the wide range effects the syndrome has had on people throughout history.
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