Impaired Physicians: Wasted Potential
It is ironic that anybody trained to be a health professional should lose his or her own health in the process. Yet this is what happens to some physicians. Depression, substance abuse, and even suicide are not beyond the realm of potential experience. Physicians are human too.
It is well documented that many members of the medical profession suffer from emotional distress that affects not only their work but other areas of their lives as well. Gross impairment is usually preceded by depleted energy, job dissatisfaction, and professional incompetence. As clinical standards fall and quality of work is compromised, negative attitudes develop toward patients, colleagues, and associates--and finally toward self. Strained relationships develop at home as well as at work.
Emotional impairment in the medical profession first became an issue of widespread concern in 1972 when the American Medical Association's Council on Mental Health issued its landmark statement on "the sick physician." Since then, there has been a proliferation of programs throughout the country to deal with impaired physicians. Sponsored by local medical societies and hospitals, these programs have been designed to detect, confront, and provide rehabilitation services. In nearly every state, medical societies now have impaired physician committees and, since 1975, the AMA has sponsored a bi-annual national conference on the topic of impairment and has circulated throughout the country an AMA Impaired Physician Newsletter.