Medical Profession Urged To Do More On Physicians' Ill Health

(19.10.2015) The medical profession should do far more to prevent and deal with stress and illness among physicians, the World Medical Association has said.

In new policy guidance adopted at its annual Assembly in Moscow, the WMA calls for a series of measures to improve physicians' wellbeing. It says that the medical profession often attracts highly driven individuals with a strong sense of duty. Physicians have to complete long and intense educational requirements and are subject to high expectations from patients and the public. But these expectations can contribute to prioritizing the care of others over care of self and feelings of guilt and selfishness for managing their own well-being.

Physicians often delay seeking help because of their concern about confidentiality and feeling ill at ease in the patient role. However they should be assured of the same right of confidentiality as any other patient when seeking and undergoing treatment. Prevention, early assistance and intervention should be available separately from any disciplinary process.

The guidance says that physicians and physicians in postgraduate education often confront emotionally challenging and traumatic situations including patients' suffering, injury and death. Physicians in postgraduate education and medical students can also be victims of harassment and discrimination during their medical education. Due to their position within the medical hierarchy, they may feel powerless to confront these behaviours.

Sir Michael Marmot, President of the WMA, said: ‘There is no doubt that physicians are often adept at hiding their own illnesses and continuing to work without seeking help until they become incapable of carrying out their duties. There are many potential obstacles to an ill physician seeking care, such as denial, confidentiality issues, and fear of disciplinary action and potential loss of privileges. Because of these obstacles doctors are often reluctant to refer themselves or their colleagues for treatment.

‘So we are urging better wellness promotion, prevention strategies and earlier intervention to help lessen the severity of mental and physical illnesses and help reduce incidence of suicide among physicians, physicians in postgraduate education and medical students.'

Full text of guidance