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Independents' Day

Stigma prevents sick doctors from returning to work

The stigma felt by doctors who are signed off sick for long periods is a major obstacle to them returning to work, say psychiatrists.

A series of interviews with doctors who had been off for more than six-months found they had very negative views about themselves and felt unsupported and judged.

Many had experienced negative reactions to their illness and some had deliberately concealed problems they were having.

Being away from work left them isolated and sad and questioning their place in the world, the study found.

These ‘self-stigmatising’ views may come from a belief that doctors are ‘invincible’ and do not get sick, the team led by Dr Max Henderson, senior lecturer in epidemiological and occupational psychiatry at Kings College London said in BMJ Open.

Yet doctors are just as likely to have mental illness, or drug and alcohol problems but may fear accessing services because of concerns over confidentiality, the researchers said.

They interviewed 19 doctors who had a mix of physical and mental illness, and some had GMC involvement.

They called for a change in culture ‘from medical school onwards’ to allow doctors recognise their vulnerabilities.

The researchers concluded: ‘A greater willingness to accept the possibility that one might at some stage become a patient, together with greater input from trainers and senior colleagues as to how this might be managed, could reduce the sense of shock and bewilderment should illness strike.’

RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada said doctors had that sense of invincibility because it helped them cope in a job where they were dealing with death and delivering devastating news.

She said: ‘What doctors need is a safe place, that is not their appraiser or trainer or mentor, but could be their own GP or a confidential stand alone service to seek help.’

She added that 67% of GPs who asked the college for help in returning to work were back within six months and that the RCGP ran courses to help this.


Readers' comments (2)

  • There is an institutionalised culture of abuse in the NHS. While as a junior doctor, I recall being treated appalingly-I have never received any apologies for these disgraces. The view from "on high" is that it is "an honour" to be allowed to practice medicine and somehow one need's to "pay back" this honour...........usually with one's own health and wellbeing. This is all alot of complete crap and those who believe this nonsense need to be confronted. Some doctor's leaders are so obsessed by these odd ideas that they forget that we are just like anybody else. That's my gripe with "the Patient's Association" which incessantly promotes a "them and us" culture as if patients are one class of society (victims) and doctors another (perpetrators)we are all the bloody same.....just people........just trying to do our best.

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  • Could not agree with you more!

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