Why stress in doctors needs to be recognized and treated

Do doctors take care of themselves?

Sometimes, patients may better follow the advice of physicians that are not obese and don’t smoke. That was a question asked in a post last year, entitled, When fat doctors talk to obese patients.

According to studies, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, it’s a mixed bag:

Physicians as a group are leaner, fitter and live longer than average Americans. Male physicians keep their cholesterol and blood pressure lower. Women doctors are more likely to use hormone-replacement therapy than their patients. Doctors are also less likely to have their own primary care physician—and more apt to abuse prescription drugs.

Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

One aspect that’s often under-reported is the amount of stress that physicians face. It’s no secret that burnout among doctors is rising, in part due to the frustrations of practicing medicine compounded by an uncertain health reform environment.

And that’s becoming evident with these distressing numbers:

Surgeons surveyed by the American College of Surgeons in 2008 found that only 36% felt their work schedule left enough time for personal and family life, and only 51% would recommend their children pursue a similar career.

It’s long been known that while physicians have about the same rate of depression as the rest of the population (affecting roughly 14% of male doctors, and 20% of female doctors), physicians are more likely to commit suicide.

Burnout starts early in residency training, and only worsens once physicians graduate. Addressing this head-on, and finding ways to recognize and treat physician stress, will not only help overburdened clinicians, but the patients they treat as well.

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  • madoc

    Very important problem. The stress starts for some in medical school.
    I had a panic attack the last year of my residency which was not treated because of my feeling weak and scared of disclosure. Well that was followed by depression and difficulty during my whole professional life. I am not alone
    and have seen much along the way.

  • http://drgrumpyinthehouse.blogspot.com Dr. Grumpy

    The stress level in this job is insane. I look in the mirror and feel like a before & after picture of one of the Presidents.

  • http://www.pacificpsych.com/ pacificpsych

    The stress level is ‘insane’ not only as a result of the practice of medicine itself, but more as a result of everything surrounding it. The constant threat of malpractice and the loss of autonomy and professional stature are some of the big factors.

    Yeah, you’re a doctor, but unless you’re self employed in a cash practice, you’re told by everyone and their dog what to do. You have all the responsibility and none of the power. You’ll be the one blamed for anything that goes wrong, yet you can do little to change the parameters in which you operate.

    You’re expected to be perfect yet treated as a dispensable commodity. This comes as a huge shock to doctors. Our society no longer respects education and experience. It’s very hard to be a physician nowadays.

    And then there is the fear of professional repercussions should you admit to any weakness. Medical boards in some states are quick to pounce on any report of physician impairment or so called ‘disruptiveness’, that new Jacho monstrosity that applies of course only to physicians. Everyone else can be as rude and horrible to you as they want, but you must be perfect at all times. You’re not even allowed to be human…

    • madoc

      You certainly are hitting on some real stuff.

  • http://storytellerdoc.blogspot.com storytellerdoc

    I think this was one of the most valid posts I’ve read in a while. Stressful occupation, hell yeah, but why would our job define us and come before taking care of our own health. I’m proud to say I am a gym regular at 43 and have given it my best effort to stay young at heart, if not in body.

    Well done on this post.

  • http://www.stress-relief-workshop.com Kate

    Every doctor i have ever seen has looked stressed and tires. it has always been a worry to me as or all the people you want to be fresh and alert a doctor is at the top of the list.

    The trouble is doctors have to work long hours and often do not get regular breaks. i do think that there should be new procedures put into place to ensure that doctors receive more rest time during the day and places for them where they can have some piece and quiet to rest.

    • madoc

      Kate
      Doctors must take charge of their own health otherwise it does not get done.
      We like to see that in our patients.
      We must do the same for ourselves.
      No one is going to come and save us. We need to act. We can ask for help.

      • http://www.pacificpsych.com/ pacificpsych

        Exactly. No one will save you. Most people could care less about the plight of doctors. Even doctors themselves tend to turn on one another instead of being supportive.

        Find some way to exercise. Get a walking partner. Plunk a treadmill in front of the TV. Play outside with the kids. Get a trainer at the gym.

        And find someone to talk to. Cash only. Unless you’re a danger to patients, and the overwhelming majority of stressed physicians are not, no one will ever know.

        No one will thank you for killing yourself by overwork. You won’t be a hero. You’ll just be dead.

  • http://jillofalltradesmd.blogspot.com/ Jill of All Trades, MD

    I just recently learned of the suicide of one of the best, most humble, and kindest physicians i knew. He was a much loved pediatrician, who donated much of his salary EVERY year to charity, was a devout Catholic, lived very humbly, was a favorite among the residents he taught, and worked very hard — it was a shocker, and he will be greatly missed by all. It’s so saddening to learn of the high suicide rate amongst physicians, and really hits home when you know someone. It’s real.