It isn’t often that attending a professional conference alters your perspective completely, but that’s what happened to me a few years ago. It was an Ohio Association Medical Staff Services session that dealt with physician impairment.
What made this session noteworthy? In addition to the educational speakers from OPEP, several recovering physicians bravely faced an audience of medical staff credentialers (and we, as you may know, tend to be a cynical and suspicious lot; it’s a job hazard) and told their stories. Each was at that moment ‘clean and sober’, some for a few months, others for many years, but each had a compelling, poignant, exceedingly human, story to tell.
I walked out of that room with far more understanding and compassion than I went in with.
My paradigm shift? It remains our responsibility to protect patients, but it is accompanied by an equal responsibility to extend help and care to afflicted practitioners. Not all will accept it, but evidence shows that a significant percentage will.
Consider this account. A resident was called in late one night to care for a patient because the attending had shown up at the hospital drunk. Concerned for the attending physician, the next day the resident approached a senior member of the medical staff and asked what could be done to help him.
“Don’t worry about him,” was the reply. “As soon as we get one more documented instance we’re getting rid of him.”
Of course, that documentation soon followed and the physician was dismissed from staff. Several months later he died from an alcohol overdose.
A valuable life carelessly tossed away.
About 15% of physicians will suffer from some form of addiction during their lives. However, those who receive treatment also have a phenomenal rate of recovery; they are intelligent, educated, and highly motivated. With treatment between 80 and 90 percent recover and learn to live sober.
As a conservative estimate at least 4% of your professional staff members are currently abusing alcohol, drugs, or both. Get educated. Find out how to help those who will accept help, and how to protect your patients from those who won’t.
Federation of State Physician Health Programs