Physicians Suffering from "Silent Desperation", Says WMA Leader

(09.11.2009) The medical profession and governments have been urged to pay more attention to the issue of stress and burn out among physicians, according to the President of the World Medical Association.Dr. Dana Hanson, a Canadian dermatologist, said that the medical profession must strive to remove the stigma surrounding burn out, while governments must address the problem, since healthy resilient physicians equalled longer professional lives and, more importantly, more accessible care for patients.

Dr. Hanson, addressing The Global Forum of Health Leaders conference in Taipei, Taiwan, today said that according to surveys in Canada and elsewhere some 45 per cent of physicians were in an advanced state of burn out, with an even higher figure in developing countries.

But why did one physician thrive in his or her career while another experience stress? The answer lay in part in being able to manage and recover from adversity. Resilience meant rising to challenges, responding creatively, learning and growing.

Physicians, he said, should not have to choose between saving themselves and serving their patients. Many physicians who were outwardly patient and enthusiastic were inwardly burning and finding their work less rewarding. The global shortage of physicians was leading to chronic overwork and stress.Dr. Hanson said that healthy physicians meant healthier patients, greater satisfaction, safer care and a sustainable workforce.

Physicians were generally healthy when it came to tobacco use, and contrary to popular belief, drug and alcohol use was no greater in the medical profession than it was in other occupations.

Yet more demands on physicians and their increasing lack of control were leading to a silent desperation among physicians. Women in the profession in particular appeared to be at greater risk of suicide, and a significant proportion of all physicians had symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to surveys.

Dr. Hanson said that the image and professionalism of physicians, the threat to their self regulation, patient safety and accountability without authority all contributed to mental stress.

He said it was time the profession's leaders and governments recognised these facts and took action to support physicians, through national leadership, raising awareness of the problems and reducing the stigma of burn out and education.