Maybe some of you have a parent who has gotten to the age when driving a car is no longer safe. Not long ago, my 90 year old father passed out in the middle of busy intersection and shortly thereafter proclaimed himself fit to return behind the wheel. It took two years to finally take away his license so that he would no longer be a danger to himself or others. He fought us to the end since losing his license was a major blow to his personal freedom.
One of my core beliefs is that no one could possibly understand pre-med, medical school and postgraduate training unless they too had experienced the process. We spent long hours of study in college coupled with the anxiety that we might not be accepted into medical school. Medical school was all about learning at an accelerated pace and being “on call” for the first time in our lives. We returned to the bottom as interns dealing with fatigue and the ever present fear that we might do something to harm a patient. When all was said and done and we made it to the finish line, we had earned our license and were ready to practice medicine.
So here we are ... somewhere between the beginning and the end of our careers. We have worked hard and we wish to hold on that precious right to practice medicine. This our vocation, our life, and our privilege ....
It is not unusual for doctors to be given high praise by others. Praise for our dedication and ability to heal. We are given automatic respect. As time goes by, we can be deluded into thinking that we are above others. And to maintain that image, we might pretend that we are perfect.
Yet, we must admit that there is no such thing as a perfect human being. Even though we have the letters D.O. or M.D. behind our names, we too have problems. Sometimes these personal problems can be severe enough that we violate the rules. And as harsh as it may seem, we may come to the reality that in spite of our power, we do NOT make the rules and must live by them.
Many of us physicians have dedicated so much of our lives to our work that we forget who we are. Whether the problem is pride, over work, health or family problems, we may be unable to hear the advice of others. We may fail to see the distress signals that are not far off in the distance. We may lose touch with how we fit into a “health care team.” And maybe our stubbornness and pride simply keeps saying to others, “don’t tell me what to do.”
I made some mistakes over my 30 years in practice. The mistakes revolved around being irritable, moody, overworked and a slave to my solo practice. I always responded to the urgent calls from my patients. My family never beeped me. They were second on my list.
I did not see what was happening and before I knew it, I had developed habits of being so irritable and unhappy that it affected my behavior in the hospital. I was labeled a “disruptive physician.” The problem became so serious that I was forced (like my father) to appear before a licensing board (The Missouri State Board of Healing Arts). Initially, I minimized the problem and blamed it on others. Only when I was informed that I might be put on probation and publicly reprimanded, did I realize that I was no longer in control of the situation. Denial was now replaced by the fear of losing everything.
I was rescued by a wonderful attorney from Jefferson City and by the Missouri Physicians Health Program (MPHP). I was advised to see two psychiatrists and be in the program for five years. During that time, Mr. Bob Bondurant and Ms. Mary Fahey monitored my progress. Mr. Bondurant and Ms. Fahey are experienced professionals and most of all, value confidentiality as much as we do.
Please read this carefully. I wish that I had consulted the MPHP a long time ago. It would have been so much easier if I had inquired about the program and discovered what they could do for me. I strongly believe that I never would have had to appear in front of the State Board if I sought help earlier.
None of us are perfect. We physicians have worked too hard to give away what we earned a long time ago. If you are beginning to show signs that there are problems in your life, get help. I cherish my medical license now more than ever. I hope that you can keep your license and enjoy your right to a happy life in the practice of medicine.
An Anonymous Physician