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Service aims to remove the stigma of doctors seeking medical help

Service aims to remove the stigma of doctors seeking medical help - Featured Image

Doctors are used to being the carers in our communities, however many find it difficult to seek professional health advice for themselves.

Historically, a professional culture has encouraged longer working hours and high levels of a doctor’s dedication, often to the detriment of their health.

However there is a new national website with dedicated resources specifically aimed at the medical profession.

Drs4drs.com.au launched recently to provide a vital resource for all doctors to help maintain their own health.

Hosted on doctorportal, it provides a springboard for finding health-related triage, advice, referral services and other online health resources.

Related: The importance of taking care of our own

In 2014, the Medical Board of Australia launched a significant boost in resources to doctors’ health, partnering with the Australian Medical Association to develop a national health program.

As a result, the AMA established a subsidiary company, Doctors’ Health Services (DrHS) to administer health programs at arm’s length from regulatory authorities like the MBA and AHPRA.

According to chair of the DrsH board, Dr Janette Randall, doctors’ health has been an ongoing cultural issue.

“As a profession we are self-reliant and tend to see illness as a weakness or failing. Taking time off isn’t an option when it means letting your patients and colleagues down, and young doctors in particular worry about the impact on their future careers if they are seen as not coping or not being tough enough.”

Related: What would make you see a doctor?

Although doctors generally have a higher level of health than the general community, they’re not as good at seeking help, often preferring to speak to a colleague or self-manage conditions rather than following a formal route of medical investigation.

According to Dr Randall: “Encouraging all doctors to have their own GP is an essential element of good self-care, and we need to change the culture so that help seeking is a normal and desirable thing for doctors to do.”

The mental health of doctors is of particular concern. According to the Beyond Blue National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students, doctor have higher rates of psychological distress and suicide attempts compared to the Australian population.

Women and younger doctors are of particular concern: the survey found female doctors had higher rates of current psychological distress, higher likelihood of minor psychiatric disorders and current diagnoses of specific mental health disorders. They were also more likely to have had suicidal thoughts. Younger doctors are more vulnerable to poor mental health and levels of stress with higher rates of burnout compared to older doctors.

Doctors with a mental illness often don’t seek help due to fear that they won’t be seen as competent.

Drs4drs.com.au aims to reduce this stigma and provide doctors with the tools and resources to improve both their mental and physical health.

“While doctors’ health services provide an important source of support and advice for doctors in crisis, including those experiencing mental health and substance use issues, what we really want is for doctors health services to be real focus for everyone taking care of their health,” Dr Randall explained.

As a starting point, doctors can be linked straight through to their state based health advisory services. In addition to providing confidential health-related triage and advice, these advisory services provide follow up services and support for doctors and medical students who need help returning to work, training for doctors treating other doctors and support groups for doctors with significant health problems.

The drs4drs website also a range of resources including wellbeing guides for junior doctors, mental health resources and health guides for doctors in certain fields like rural health and general practice.

The aim is to encourage a profession wide response that is compassionate and supportive of medical colleagues experiencing any kind of health challenge.

For more information, visit drs4drs.com.au

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