For years now we have had increasing knowledge worldwide regarding the issue of doctors’ health. There’s a lot going on in this space but not enough medicine changing. We have a different environment to what it was a generation ago and consequently, the needs and challenges for students are different.
But we are doing ourselves a disservice if we continue to focus so strongly on causes and how tough life is in medicine. We owe it to ourselves now to put an equal amount of energy and focus into making things better, and to finding solutions.
We are also doing ourselves a disservice if we put all our focus on what is going on in workplaces or how tough the job is. We need to be constantly mindful that as human beings, we get same illnesses as anyone else and we experience stressful major life events outside of medicine same as anyone else. Let’s not forget that none of us chose our own genetic inheritance; not all mental illness in doctors is because the job is tough or the workplace is toxic. Whilst we cannot change our or anyone else’s genetic vulnerability we can make sure to produce a workplace that is sympathetic to the needs of mental health, just as we now do for those with physical illness.
We cannot change the fact that medicine is stressful, that we look after sick people who don’t always get better, that we see horrific sights and we hear unspeakable stories. That we can’t fix everyone and are constantly reminded of our own mortality.
Unless we lose our humanity, these moments are inevitable in a medical career. But what we can do is to ensure that we do whatever we can to modify the effect these events have on us and our colleagues, to look after ourselves, to buffer potential trauma and make sure that we support each other.
I think I’d go as far as to say it’s a moral duty, our ethical duty, for all of us to make sure the workplace, work conditions and the work environment does not make the experience of the inevitabilities worse than it already is.
As a psychiatrist I’m all too aware of mental illness, its aetiology and its consequences. As medical director of the Victorian Doctors health program, I’m all too aware of these things in doctors and medical students. As president elect of the College of Psychiatry I intend that our college will not only continue its role in mental health advocacy but increase that role to include advocating for the mental health of our profession – both doctors and medical students.
I wish all the students well in their careers and personal lives. Look after yourselves, look after your mental health and look out for each other. And, if you do all these I know you will find medicine a fulfilling and rewarding career.