Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Removing barriers to physician mental health


Taking care of yourself by getting professional help when needed is essential to giving excellent patient care. You can also encourage coworkers to do the same. 

I found myself down an internet rabbit hole late one night, looking for my former residency colleagues. Where were they working? Were they married? What were all their many accomplishments? 


And then I stumbled upon a former colleague who had “died suddenly.” Just over 40. Working when it happened. Looking happy in the most recent social media posts. I texted my other residency colleaguesdid they die by suicide? I don’t know for sure, but there were rumors. A life cut short too soon. I know that I’m unfortunately not the only physician to have had this experience.  


“Your well-being is an essential part of your professionalism. If you’re not well, you can’t take the best care of your patients.” I say this phrase so often to medical students, residents, and clinical fellows that it rolls off my tongue without me thinking about it. I tell them this to acknowledge that taking care of themselves is as important as many other facets of professionalism: a commitment to patients, honesty, integrity. Easier said than done though, right?  


There are many barriers to physicians seeking mental healthcare for burnout, depression, or anxiety. One frequently cited by doctors is the worry it will impact their ability to be licensed and gain employment. 


Although in the past this concern was valid, thankfully this is changing. This article from NPR describes some of the national efforts to remove questions about one’s mental health history when applying for medical licensure or credentialing. This work was spearheaded by the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation that is dedicated to reducing burnout of healthcare professionals and supporting their well-being. As of April 2024, 27 state medical boards had changed the intrusive language in their licensure applications, and 11 were doing so.  


Why does this matter?  

Knowing the facts about this can encourage physicians to get the help they need. We can share with others that while there are still some states that may ask these questions, more and more are changing their licensure requirements to remove intrusive language. Changing this required licensure process changes our culture by removing a barrier to getting help.  


What can we do as individuals?  

1. Encourage your state medical society and other professional societies to prioritize mental health.

If your state hasn’t changed its license application language (see here for a map), contact them to ask for change. 


2. Know about national support resources.

If you or a colleague isn’t ready to see a formal professional, call the Physician Support Line for free and anonymous support from volunteer psychiatrists.  


3. Identify local support resources.

Many employers have employee assistance programs, and some have peer support programs. 


4. Be there for your colleagues.

Remind them it’s okay to get mental health support. It’s the right thing to do for both them and their patients. We all have challenges in our lives and our jobs, and we deserve to be well. 








This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.