Global experts in health and wellbeing, physicians and medical students are gathering in Auckland today at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Congress to discuss the importance of improving the health and wellbeing of physicians and moving away from the prevailing culture of poor self-care in medicine and doctor burn out.
Facilitated by Dr David Beaumont, Former President of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the session ‘Physician health thyself’ will challenge audience members to think about their own health and wellbeing along the life course, from training through to retirement.
Dr David Beaumont said that “as doctors, our career is all about improving the health of others, however this often comes at the cost of looking after our own health and wellbeing.”
“After many years of working as a doctor, I have come to realise that being healthy means more than just the absence of ill-health, it encompasses mental, physical and social wellbeing.
“While on the whole, doctors enjoy comparatively good physical health, certain characteristics of the medical profession predispose doctors to some particularly serious health risks.
“Psychological distress is significantly greater in doctors compared to the general population our industry has substantially higher rates of attempted suicide and suicide compared to the rest of the population.”
The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists survey of New Zealand senior health professionals in 2016 found that 50% of hospital specialists reported symptoms of burnout (i.e. high levels of fatigue and exhaustion). Nearly a quarter (24%) indicated that they are planning to leave medicine or the District Health Board they work for in the next 5 years.
As with the findings in New Zealand, a beyondblue national mental health survey of doctors and medical students in Australia found a significant percentage of doctors were experiencing high levels of emotional exhaustion (32%) and cynicism (35%). The most common sources of stress were reported as “work-life imbalance” (27%).
RACP have a number of initiatives and services in place to ensure all doctors have access to the appropriate resources and training to be able to take care of their own health and wellbeing. These include a flexible training policy, training support, online learning resources, collaboration with health sector partners and a confidential support programme.
“While medical colleges have an important role to play in promoting the health and wellbeing of practitioners, action is required by state and federal governments to review regulatory frameworks, as mandatory reporting of impaired doctors can act as a deterrent to seeking help,” said Dr Beaumont.
“Action is also required to identify workplace hazards and to minimise the risks to the health and wellbeing of all health professionals.
“Perhaps mostly importantly, as a society we need to work together to raise awareness of mental health conditions, reduce stigma and support people with mental health conditions at work.”