The Health of Doctors

Here is a nice piece that came out in The Atlantic.   It shows a mixed report card when grading the health of doctors:

The good news first: doctors are good at avoiding risky behavior. Compared to everyone else, they almost never smoke, they rarely drink, and they lack many of the obesity-related chronic illnesses that are threatening to overwhelm the country’s health-care system. That data comes from the Physicians’ Health Study II (PHS-II), a 10-year clinical trial involving over 14,000 middle-aged male doctors that concluded in 2006.

The bad news, though, is that those same doctors suffer from problems that are harder to detect at a glance. They often have high blood pressure and cholesterol. Many suffer from depression — and attempt suicide — at greater rates than the rest of the country. It’s hard to say whether the job has much to do with it, although studies also show that students in medical school also report feelings of depression in remarkable proportions.

Depression/suicide is definitely a scary risk in our profession.  I have written before about how some doctors who I knew killed themselves.   The amazing part is that there really isn’t any support system for us.  If you admit depression or suicidal thoughts then you are labeled compromised or impaired.   Sorry, that is the sad truth.  There needs to be more of an anonymous way for us to heal but it doesn’t exist.  Since we take care of patients, no one will let you practice if they even smell a hint of risk.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  12 comments for “The Health of Doctors

  1. Douglas SheetsMD
    August 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    In NC. the NCMS began a program to help impaired physicians of all types (Sex, Drugs, Mental health issues, etc.) PHEP works with Doctors and the NC medical board to help Physicians and keep them in practice.

    • Doug Farrago
      August 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      I have to be convinced that this information is not held against the doctors.

  2. DrPhil
    August 16, 2012 at 7:29 am

    I was reading about a study done a while ago on pairs of dogs. Both dogs were in cages with a metal floor. Every now and then at random intervals a brief electric shock would jolt them. One of the dogs had a button in his cage and when he pushed it the electric shock would immediately stop. After a few days the dogs without the button were withdrawn and not eating, the other ones were fairly normal.

    Why do I feel like I am in the cage without the button?

    This would go for Moss Bliss’ comments as a patient and for Doug dealing with the Maine Administrators.

    my 2c

  3. August 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Ya know, Dr. Doug, we patients have the same complaints — we get labeled and stigmatized, and often lose our jobs, just because some doctor has diagnosed us as depressed, bipolar, etc. And on top of that, these same doctors tell us that we have no hope, and have to take drugs which weaken and disable us even further FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES. As I’ve commented before, I got off the drug wagon back in 2003 and have been recovering from the horrible effects of the drugs. I think I’m functioning better than I did before I was diagnosed, although I still have the challenges resembling the description of bipolar disorder. After being on Disability since 1998, and having not worked since 1997 – mostly because I had a diagnosis – I finally got a job this year. It doesn’t pay much, but it allows me to have a bit of self-respect.

  4. August 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Good article. Most of the docs I’ve known are hardworking & have very high personal standards. That’s OK, but it’s also a setup for feelings of failure, since no one reaches perfection. And that’s a setup for depressed feelings.

    Re anonymity: There is or used to be a “Doctors in AA” national group.Something really private like that, for alkies and others, without AA’s spritual orientation, might be helpful.

  5. big picture doc
    August 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    This is what happens when you give someone lots of responsibility, no power, and limit them to using mostly dangerous treatments to help their patients. Very depressing indeed.

  6. dr o
    August 15, 2012 at 11:23 am

    docs rarely drink? you’ve missed some good old maine operating room christmas parties.
    miss ya

    • Doug Farrago
      August 15, 2012 at 11:24 am

      miss you guys too….not the administrators, though

  7. Kurt
    August 15, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Are you kidding? Go to an FP or IM conference and there are plenty of overweight and obese MD’s. Some along racial trends.
    I keep my BMI below 25 by restricting calories. Who in the trenches has time for exercise?

    I keep fielding comments from patients, “You look so thin.” I have to point out that my BMI/weight is appropriate for my height and I’m a long way from what would be considered thin. I also remind them,
    “I do it so I can YELL at all the fat people. Plenty of double and triple wide wheelchairs waiting for them at the nursing homes.”
    On a dark note I know of of three docs who committed suicide near the rural area that I work. All three were specialists of some kind.

  8. DrPhil
    August 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Careful – otherwise the powers that be will mandate doctors paying into a special fund to pay for enforced healthcare for doctors. Downunder, a doctor is compelled by law to report a doctor they may be treating if they even suspect that doctor is impaired. So don’t think that bemoaning the imposition will get any attention other than to increase surveillance on doctors. That seems the logical progression of your story!

  9. Pat
    August 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Excellent post Doug. Sadly, you are so right. I’ve told med students that though they need to constantly self-assess and should absolutely seek help for feelings of depression or self-destructive impulses – they should keep it private and never, ever let this info out to any government or so-called “professional” body.

  10. S. Fitzgibbons MD
    August 11, 2012 at 9:34 am

    IMO many suicides result from our massive personal investment in practicing medicine–the ego thing, the huge part of our self-identification in “I’m a doctor”, and decreased investment in non-medical relationships. The admonition to “get a life” may actually save one.

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