‘Culture’ and ‘compassion’ were the key themes raised in the final report of the National Forum on Reducing Risk of Suicide in the Medical Profession, released at the end of December 2017
The forum was convened in September by the AMA and Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd (DrHS), a subsidiary of the AMA that is funded by the Medical Board of Australia.
The report records the considerations and recommendations of the 82 doctors nominated by key medical stakeholder organisations who attended the forum.
Under the microscope were the individual, organisational, and environmental issues seen to impact negatively on the emotional health and wellbeing of doctors.
DrHs Chair, Dr Janette Randall, said, “The themes that emerged from the day were culture and compassion. We heard stories of psychological harm, mental illness, and suicide, which are the sad and tragic reality of the pressures of being a doctor in Australia today.
“Not enough doctors and medical students have a GP who they see regularly…”
“Importantly, we also heard stories of how doctors at the coalface are working on solutions to protect their own health, the health of their colleagues, and their patients.
“The strong overarching message from the Forum was that cultural change has to come from within the profession and doctors must care about and value the health of their colleagues.”
AMA Vice-President, Dr Tony Bartone, said many factors can affect how doctors and medical students cope with the stressors of their work roles.
“Not enough doctors and medical students have a GP who they see regularly, and not enough doctors engage in preventive health care such as healthy lifestyle, proper work-life balance, and regular check-ups – simple, yet vital, actions that can keep stress and depression at bay,” Dr Bartone said.
“The stress can build up over time and, in worst-case scenarios, can lead to self-harm and suicide.”
The facilitator of the Forum, Professor Simon Willcock, Clinical Director of Primary Care at the Macquarie University Health Sciences Centre, said doctors do not currently recognise and respond to illness in themselves or their colleagues.
“Across the profession, we have to get better at seeing the signs when matters like ageing, burnout, compassion fatigue, traumatic events, bullying, and harassment are eating away at our colleagues and ourselves,” Prof Willcock said.
“These things affect our health and wellbeing and our effectiveness as doctors, and ultimately can affect the quality of care we are providing our patients.”
A range of actions were agreed upon, including a public statement of intent to make the health of the profession a priority; developing education on how to be a ‘doctor-patient’ and how to treat medical colleagues when they are patients; providing advice, support and clearer pathways to assist all doctors to find their own GP.
By March, a ‘Patrons’ group of interested stakeholders will be formed in order to champion doctors’ health, promulgate key messages among their professional sector, support key initiatives, and contribute resources where required to support implementation of the Forum’s recommendations.