Clinicians give their best patient care when they are feeling well, both mentally and physically. Encourage colleagues to seek mental health care if they need it.
“I am just so sorry. You deserve so much better.” A few months ago, a colleague was sobbing, and I think this is what I said to her. I remember feeling like I wanted to say something helpful rather than what I said. But I do remember distinctly why she was crying, and it still bothers me. She was afraid that if she saw a therapist for her depression that this would be held against her by a licensing board or credentialing committee.
My colleague was right to be worried. Clinicians are routinely asked invasive and sometimes illegal questions about their mental health when applying for medical licenses and credentialing. These questions have been shown to deter physicians from seeking mental healthcare, including for common conditions like depression and anxiety. Fortunately, many states and several employers have started to remove these questions from licensing applications, but more change is needed.
Some doctors who are concerned about disclosing receiving mental healthcare have developed work-arounds to still get care, including not disclosing their mental healthcare to employers, accessing mental healthcare without using insurance, or seeking other services like coaching or mindfulness training to try to achieve better mental health. I’ve also heard of some who chose to cut back on work or left patient care altogether.
Clinicians give their best care to patients when physically and mentally healthy. I hope in the near future no physician or student has to consider a work-around.
Dr. William Osler had depression, just like many other physicians and students. And just like all people, doctors and students deserve treatment and to feel safe while accessing care. You can encourage all who need it to receive mental healthcare, tell your employer to revise their credentialing application to avoid asking about it, and tell your state medical board to explicitly support clinicians receiving care.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.