As a doctor working in emergency departments, I can vouch for the stress and fatigue to which medical practitioners may be exposed in an average day’s work. In addition, the challenges faced by doctors who are new or transient (such as locums like myself), or doctors-in-training rotating through different departments, can be augmented by having to navigate unfamiliar workplace systems, protocols and personnel.
While the types of stressors experienced by doctors may change throughout the course of their careers, the fact remains that clinical medicine can be simultaneously physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, and depending on the area of specialty, the hours can be unpredictable, unsociable, and potentially unsafe. Further, uncertainty is inherent in medicine, the practice of which has been described as ‘high demand and low control.’ As such, not only is the patient’s life at stake in the practice of modern day medicine, but so is that of the doctor.
Like anyone else, doctors can struggle with the challenges of life, which they must manage in tandem with that of their patients. Doctors are subject to demands not only from patients, but their employers, colleges and peers, and even their own colleagues – whilst also having to manage their personal lives (such as raising a family) and professional expectations – including the omnipotent threat of complaint or litigation. Further, traditionally doctors have not easily taken on the role of patient in seeking appropriate care for themselves, the issue of mandatory reporting aside. We have been saddened by a spate of doctor suicides reported in recent times.
On 8 June 2017, the Postgraduate Medical Council of Victoria (PMCV) and AMA Victoria convened for the first time a Wellbeing Forum for interested parties, with the aim of sharing information around services and resources available to support Victorian doctors and medical students across a range of issues. Issues around workplace (eg. safety, flexibility and diversity in rostering), training, and mental health were canvassed. A second forum was held on 10 August 2017 and it was agreed that the group will meet biannually and continue the conversation online in the interim.
Resources discussed included the career counselling service offered by the Victorian AMA who also assist doctors wishing to transition within and outside of medicine; the AMA peer support program which offers doctors anonymous phone advice from trained medical volunteers, as well as additional mentorship; the Victorian Medical Benevolent Association, available to assist doctors and their families through financial hardship; and Beyond Blue which will be launching a Health Services Mental Health Guide on 30 August 2017, and which has also undertaken work on bullying and harassment, occupational violence, and improving mental health in workplaces (eg. the ‘Heads Up’ campaign). Other services discussed in the first forum include those offered by the PMCV itself, the Victorian Doctors Health Program, and the Doctors Health Services via a national portal. Individual colleges such as ACEM, RANZP, RANZCOG and RACS also offer support for their members, and health services likewise offer assistance in various forms to their staff.
Remember you can also approach your medical indemnity insurer if at any time you require any support or assistance.
If you have any particular thoughts, concerns, or other contribution to offer to this ongoing forum, please email Tego’s Chief Medical Adviser, Dr Melanie Tan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Howe, A. ‘Doctors’ Health and Wellbeing’, BMJ Careers, 17 September 2013, http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20014522
 AMA Position Statement on Health and Wellbeing of Doctors and Medical Students, AMA, 2011, https://ama.com.au/system/tdf/documents/AMA_Position_Statement_on_Health_and_Wellbeing_of_Doctors_and_Medical_Students_2011.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=40676
 ‘Doctor suicides prompt calls for overhaul of mandatory reporting laws’, ABC News Australia, 13 April 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-13/doctor-suicides-prompt-calls-for-overhaul/8443842
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