Supporting doctors' health
When we are managing a doctor's health case, we aim, where possible, to assist the doctor to stay practising whilst their health problem is being resolved. However, our Health Committee's primary objective is to protect the public health and safety, and then address the doctor's health. This may mean that sometimes the doctor will not be able to practise, or may have their practice limited, until they are well enough to do so.
Under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCAA) doctors have to tell us if their own or a colleague’s fitness is in doubt.
Some doctors recognise they have a problem and do something about it. Others may lack insight and resist any offer of help or support.
Barriers to health care that arise for doctors
Generally, doctors are poor at seeking help and attending to their own needs. Some factors that make it difficult for a doctor to become a patient are:
- a fear that confidentiality won’t be maintained and that others will have access to their medical information
- a fear of being recognised in waiting rooms
- a fear of having a serious condition
- shame or embarrassment particularly with respect to substance abuse or sexual issues
- a misperception that they lack time to see to their own health needs
- reluctance to impose on a busy colleague
- the difficulty reversing roles
- a belief that they should be able to cure themselves
- their ready access to a wide range of medication
- risking their career or future access to insurance
- a fear of being judged by their GP
- a fear of disciplinary action, or referral to the Health Committee
- a requirement to withdraw from practice and lose their livelihood
- the ‘culture’ of medicine, which does not easily allow for admitting one is unwell or fallible/vulnerable. Illness is seen as a weakness
Why you should have your own GP
Like anyone else, your health is your most valuable asset. Reasons for having a GP are:
- objective assessment and appropriate management of your health problems
- psychological support in times of stress
- preventative care, for example cervical screening, monitoring BP, cholesterol etc
- detection of the onset of insidious disease and opportunity for early intervention
- avoiding potential conflicts between your health needs and professional personal demands
- having a documented clinical record just as you would recommend for any other patient
It is worth spending some time looking for a GP you feel comfortable with.
Being a doctor's doctor - challenges that arise
Drs Hilton Koppe, Janet Frater, and Sara Weeks shared their experiences and the challenges they face when their patient is a doctor. These were published in Medical Council News, Issue 46, December 2008.
- Dr Hilton Koppe ‘Treating Very Important Patients with Very Important Principles – training doctors to treat other doctors’.
- Dr Janet Frater ‘Being a doctor’s doctor’.
- Dr Sara Weeks ‘The doctor’s doctor’.
Download December 2008 (Wednesday, 28 March 2012, PDF, 1 MB)
It is generally unwise for doctors to self assess and self prescribe. Council’s statement on providing care to yourself and those close to you is a useful resource.
Download Providing care to yourself and those close to you (June 2007, 2 pages, 81 KB)
If you work in a DHB, refer to their policies on the use of hospital prescription forms, and hospital drugs and medicines that may apply to you.
Download Doctors' Health booklet (2004, PDF, 115 KB)
Download Unprofessional behaviour and the health care team (2009, PDF, 100 KB)
Download Practising certificates disclosure