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.