Physicians and Their Experience with the Stigma for Seeking Help

Posted on September 7, 2022 by Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, PCC

Updated September 7, 2022

Physicians give their all to their patients and to their profession. But in pursuing a career practically defined by self-sacrifice, they often accept the idea they are supposed to be superheroes, with an unlimited ability to keep going, no matter what the cost to themselves. Being human, however, they will always come to the point where they need help with emotional and mental-health issues—especially given contemporary medicine’s myriad stressors and their consequences, from overwork to moral injury to burnout.

Yet there’s a stigma around seeking help, based on that superhero myth. The myth, and the stigma, need to go, and personal coach and physician Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, PCC lays out what leaders, colleagues and individual physicians need to do to make that happen.

In a detailed article based on personal experience, she asserts physicians need to recognize how wrong the myth is. They need to be willing to notice when a colleague appears more harried or withdrawn than normal, check in with them and offer aid, whether it’s a listening ear or a referral to a mental-health resource such as peer coaching and counseling. 

Perhaps most important of all, is the attitude and practice of leadership. Leaders, Shannon writes, need to model self-care themselves, they need to learn what their physicians' professional lives are like and what their needs are by shadowing them during a workday. They also need to take into account the systemic factors—productivity requirements, workload, scheduling, EHR coding, inadequate support staff, etc.—that lead to stress and burnout. And they need to make changes.

The hard-hitting, solution-focused article is available here.

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