If a doctor has an issue with their own health, wherever possible we try to help them to remain in practice while it is being resolved. That said, our primary objective is to protect the health and safety of the public - which may mean that the doctor will be unable to practise safely, or will be limited in what they can do, until they are well enough to fully resume practice.
Under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCAA) doctors must tell us if their health, or the health of a colleague, is in doubt.
Some doctors recognise they have a problem and do something about it. Others may be unaware, and resist any offer of help or support.
Barriers to health care for doctors
Doctors are often unwilling to seek help when they become unwell; some reasons for this are:
- a fear that confidentiality will be compromised, and colleagues may 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 if the problem relates to substance abuse or sexual issues
- a misperception that they lack time to address 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, where practitioners find it difficult to admit they are unwell or vulnerable.
You should have your own GP
Like anyone else, your health is your most valuable asset, and it's worth spending the time to find a GP you're comfortable with.
Your own GP will:
- provide objective assessment and appropriate management of your health problems
- offer psychological support in times of stress
- provide preventative care, for example cervical screening, monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol etc
- help detect the onset of insidious disease and provide the opportunity for early intervention
- help you avoid potential conflicts between your health needs and professional personal demands
- keep a documented clinical record for you, just as you would recommend for any other patient.
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. While these were first were first published in Medical Council News, Issue 46, December 2008, they are still relevant.
- 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’.
As a general rule it's unwise for a doctor to self assess and self-prescribe. Council’s statement on providing care to yourself and those close to you is a useful resource.
If you work in a hospital, refer to their policies on the use of hospital prescription forms, and hospital drugs and medicines that may apply to you.
Doctors are often asked for input by their family and friends. This may include requests for medical advice or a prescription, or more substantial involvement such as performing a procedure. This statement explains why doctors must avoid treating themselves and those they have a close personal relationship with.