The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible

Merry N. Miller, MD, K. Ramsey Mcgowen, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, James H. Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City.

South Med J. 2000;93(10) 

In This Article

Efforts to Change

In recent years, efforts have emerged to remedy some of these problems. More articles about professional well-being and professionalism, including self-awareness and personal growth, are appearing in the literature.[37,38] Physician wellness is emerging as a special interest that transcends specialties. An International Conference on Physician Health has been started as a joint effort of the AMA and the Canadian Medical Association. These conferences have been held every 2 years starting in 1996; the last was in 2000 in Charleston, SC.

Every state also has physician impairment programs available. Similar programs are also available for nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, attorneys, and dentists. Within Tennessee, the Tennessee Medical Association has a Physician Health Program (PHP) that addresses issues of physician impairment. The PHP deals with issues of substance abuse, mood disorders, and other psychiatric disorders, as well as personality disorders. Interventions are made as needed: substance-abusing physicians or "irascible" physicians may be confronted by the PHP with their need for treatment without involvement by the TMA itself.

Another type of intervention that is used primarily in family medicine programs is Balint Groups. Michael Balint was a psychiatrist in England who identified the need for physicians to have group discussions about doctor-patient relationships.[39] This approach has been found to be helpful for increasing both self-awareness and understanding of patients and has been applied in many family medicine programs.


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