Doctors Given Own Medicine


By Cheryl Powell, Beacon Journal Medical Writer

Akron Beacon Journal

September 21, 2004

Physicians told to take care of themselves, too


Some of the worst patients around are doctors themselves. Physicians know the impor­tance of getting enough sleep. They tell their patients to eat well, manage stress and balance work and family. But they need to get better at practicing what they preach. That was the diagnosis shared Friday and Saturday during a conference at Akron Children's Hospital to help the professionals who take care of our health take better care of themselves.


About 90 area physicians attended the two-day event, which featured talks by experts from throughout this country and Canada about ways physicians can improve their own health and well-being.

"This is the big myth in medi­cine: Just because we know what we should be doing means that we are all doing It,'' said Dr. Mamta Gautam, a psychiatrist from Ottawa, Canada, whose entire practice is made up of doctors as patients.


Gautam compared the need for doctors to put their mental and physical health first to the safety tip flight attendants always share with passengers before takeoff. If the pressure in the cabin changes and oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, passengers are urged to secure their own masks first before tending to a child or someone else. The reason is simple: you really can’t help anybody if you’re passed out.


“You are no good to anybody – your patients, your family, your friends, your community – if you are not taking care of yourself,” Gautam said.


Dr. Jeff Kempf, an emergency medicine physician and pediatric residency program director at Children’s, helped organize the event as part of the hospital’s efforts to improve physician wellness. “Physicians are horrible role models for wellness,” he said. “they don’t think they can be hurt. It’s always someone else. I think it has been ingrained in physicians that the patients come first, sometimes to the detriment of your own health or family.”


In fact, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the culture of medicine puts a low priority on physician mental health, despite evidence that doctors have a higher suicide rate than the general population.


Many people face stress and burnout on the job. But the very personality traits that make people good doctors can make them more likely to face burn-out, Gautam said. As a group, doctors tend to be perfectionists who like to please people, she said. Typically, doctors like to have control of situations and tend to feel a sense of responsibility and guilt for things that happen. “We’re unrelentingly perfect,” she said.


Patients’ demands, phone calls and paperwork can leave doctors little time to take care of their own needs, agreed Dr. Maryann May, a pediatrician with the Akron Health Department who attended the conference. “There’s always somebody who wants you,” she said.


Gautam gave the doctors tips for managing their stress, but the suggestions can be used by other people too:


• Identify what is causing you stress and focus on what you can control, accepting that much is out of your control.

• Try to anticipate stressful situations and make changes, such as asking for help or adjusting your schedule.

• Set priorities and learn to say no.

• Don't take your work home with you.

• Practice relaxation techniques.

• Add fun to your work and laugh more often.

• Take time off; don't finish a vacation or lunch with a friend without planning anoth­er one.

• Have a support system - at least one good friend or even a pet to listen to your problems.