Medical associations across the world are seeking solutions for dissatisfied, stressed-out and ill doctors, the conference heard.
CMA (Canadian Medical Association) president Anna Reid said there had been ‘unprecedented interest’ in the 2012 International Conference on Physician Health, jointly hosted by the CMA, BMA and the American Medical Association.
Dr Reid said: ‘Physician health is finally getting the recognition and attention it deserves. It is a sign that increasingly we are openly acknowledging this critical need to promote, preserve and manage the health and wellness of physicians.’
The CMA and its charitable arm, the Canadian Medical Foundation recently set up a new Canadian Physician Health Institute to offer equitable access to physicians’ health support, raise awareness, develop primary prevention strategies and support research in the field of physician mental health.
Dr Reid, who works as an emergency physician in the remote city of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, said: ‘I know … from first-hand experience, the immense stresses that physicians in rural and remote places can face, often working with inadequate professional support for the workload and limited diagnostic facilities.
‘The isolation and burden of such responsibility could become overwhelming … I also know that these challenges are not unique to remote practice, nor are they unique to Canadian physicians.’
‘Shocking’ suicide rates
AMA (American Medical Association) president Jeremy Lazarus, a Denver psychiatrist, said: ‘Studies have shown for years that physicians experience a higher rate of depression than the general public. In fact, physician suicide rates are a shocking 40 per cent higher than the general population for males and 130 per cent higher in females in age-matched groups.
‘You might say that physicians are literally sick of their jobs. Burnout is more common among physicians than in the general population.’
He added: ‘We cannot just tell doctors to grin and bear it. We need to better understand what is actually happening.’Dr Lazarus said coping skills needed to be taught in medical school.
Meanwhile, the AMA has produced Healthier Life Steps: A Physician’s Guide to Good Health, as well as steps to build resilience against anxiety, depression, burnout and suicidal thoughts.
BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson said: ‘In the UK, doctors were the first to stop smoking. I have always put that down to what I call the “Doll” effect. That is after Sir Richard Doll who published in 1952 a report that said doctors who smoke die younger than doctors who don’t smoke – and doctors gave up smoking.
‘We need a “Doll” effect-type report to help encourage us into those healthier lifestyles.’
Dr Nathanson added: ‘Doctors are experts in assessing, understanding and weighing evidence. It is important we do so in dealing with health professionals.
‘Historically as doctors we have been ignorant of our own health needs, too busy looking after those of others … And we are only now beginning to acknowledge what those health needs are.'