Physician impairment: A need for prevention

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“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
- Mark Twain



Psychiatry is a field of passion. The reward of experiencing growth and change alongside our patients is what bolsters us through years of difficult training, overnight shifts, endless paperwork, regulatory mandates, and frequent worry about our patients. As physicians, we don’t live for weekends as many other professionals do. To the contrary, we spend them on call, moonlighting, laboring over journal articles, and perfecting lectures.

That passion is what makes us trusted clinicians and experts in our field. It can also make it difficult for us to disconnect from our work, frequently leading to burnout. Physician self-care, support, and professional development are critical topics that modern-day medicine minimizes at the peril of physicians and public health.1

Psychiatry lends itself to a deep and intimate understanding of another human being. The therapist delves into the lives of his or her patients, hears their stories, and holds their secrets. In some cases, we might be the only ones who truly see patients for who they uniquely are, and come to understand them on a deeper level than their closest family and friends. This can be both thrilling and intense. As we delve into the psyche of another individual, contemplate which interpretation we should share, and resonate with our patients, it is easy to become bogged down with our own countertransference, sentiment, and worry, and to become consumed by our work. A professional hazard, some might quip.

Therefore, personal restoration—a tool that keeps our clinical skills sharp—is vitally important to caring for oneself and one’s patient. Surprisingly, this can be neglected until we begin to experience burnout, which over time could transform into impairment, thus endangering ourselves, our patients, and our profession.

Over the past decade, physician impairment has been exhaustively described, researched, and addressed. However, most analyses have focused on identifying impairment, and offering guidance on how to properly report it. How do we shift from managing the crisis to preventing it? To answer this question, this article:

  • reviews the dilemma of physician impairment
  • explores the duty we have to patients, ourselves, and the profession
  • discusses shifting the focus on impairment to prevention through well-being.

Continue to: Dilemma


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