James Reynolds, M.D.
My name is James Reynolds, M.D. I am a psychiatrist and certified forensic examiner who serves as the Medical Director of an inpatient hospital with the Missouri Department of Mental Health. I also hold an appointment as one of the Associate Medical Directors of the Missouri Physicians Health Program (MPHP). I wish to address my colleagues in the practice of medicine across the state on the subject of the Missouri Physicians Health Program, particularly in terms of the impact that program has in returning capable physicians struggling with a challenge back to the workforce.
In my thirteen years as the Medical Director of a Joint Commission accredited psychiatric hospital, I have had occasion to hire physicians who have been involved with the Missouri Physicians Health Program. I have found each of these physicians to be capable medical practitioners who were grateful for a second chance at contributing to society through their chosen career of medicine. Each of them, unfortunately, suffered through a challenge and received help from this program. Each individual was expected to shoulder the consequences of their particular challenge, but did so with the support of the compassionate professionals involved in the MPHP. Each case involved a physician who, to some degree, had action taken against his/her medical license. Once that action was completed and they were cleared to resume practice as a physician in the State of Missouri, they desired to return to the medical workforce. Unfortunately, each of them were met head on with the stigma associated with their particular challenge, and/or the consequences of their poor past choices. Each of them eventually came to my office in an attempt to find meaningful employment.
The first such individual to arrive at my door met, I must admit, my own feelings of stigma and distrust. I likely harbored some of the same concerns and misgivings that some you may have when approached by such an individual. I was concerned about questionable past behaviors, fears of a relapse into future bad choices, fears of being tainted through association, etc. However, as a psychiatrist who believes in rehabilitation and who feels strongly that one should be willing to practice what he preaches, I managed to overcome my feelings of stigma and assess each of these cases on their merits.
Having given each of them a second chance to practice their profession, I was happy to find that my initial misgivings of future poor choices proved to be unfounded. I believe this is in large part due to the care and dedication of the employees with the MPHP, who continue to monitor the participants in their program long after they return to practice. Such physicians typically are subject to random drug and alcohol monitoring, if substance use was a challenge they faced, and they typically participate in regular aftercare such as therapy groups for a considerable time. I will go so far as to say that I now worry more about what struggles my other doctors might be coping with in secret, than those of my MPHP employees.
It has been my experience that graduates of the MPHP are grateful to find an employer willing to look beyond their stigma and hire them (or not) based on their merits as a medical practitioner. They are grateful for a second chance and I have found them to be hard working and dedicated to their profession. Of course, every individual is unique and some turn out to be more productive than others, but that obviously can be said for any of us, including myself. Suffice it to say that I am happy to interview any prospective employee physician who has been involved with the Missouri Physicians Health Program, and will hire them without reservation if they are the right fit for the job.
Of course, the future is never entirely certain. There have been occasional comments from patients and/or family members who decided to “Google” their doctor. However, any angst over discovering a “blemish” in their history has typically been outweighed by the quality of care the doctor in question has provided their loved one. Should questions in some more “official” forum ever be raised, I can take solace in the fact that none of these practitioners would be hired and credentialed as part of our medical staff without having already received full clearance by the Missouri Board of Healing Arts. My willingness to entertain such an individual as an employee and colleague is of course dependent upon their participation in, and good standing with, the aftercare components of the program. I do not wish to endorse holding such physicians to any less of a standard than I would any other member of my medical staff. Admittedly, I have also had to invest extra effort personally at times to cover for the occasional limitations placed on such an individual’s practice. However, in my experience the extra effort I have put forth has been more than compensated by having a good solid worker to help me cover a difficult forensic psychiatry ward.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate my support for the Missouri Physicians Health Program and the graduates of that program. I have found the typical graduate, in my personal experience, to be hard working, conscientious, and eager for a second chance. The benefits they have brought to my organization and my patients have more than outweighed any inconvenience or fear of bad publicity their history might have posed. Whether or not such an individual is right for your organization is, of course, for you to say. However, I wish to endorse giving these individuals a second chance and looking past your understandable fears and stigma. I’ll close with the heartfelt comments of a former patient and RESPECT institute speaker:
“What I would like people to learn from me is this. The definition of stigma for those with a mental illness is the rejection and blaming of people whose conditions are considered so fearful and disgraceful that they are judged to deserve their fate.”
Should such a physician contact you for a job, I urge you to consider them with an open mind. Feel free to contact me, or Mr. Bob Bondurant, the Executive Director of the Missouri Physicians Health Program, with any questions, or worries.
James B. Reynolds, M.D., F.A.P.A.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry