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We are all familiar with that age-old adage 'physician, heal thyself'. As surgeons we are trained to put the best interests of our patients first and rightly so as we serve the public, but what about our own health?
It is vital that we promote a culture that recognises the importance of looking after our health. This is why we launched the 'Do you have a GP?' campaign.
We recognise that Fellows, Trainees and International Medical Graduates may face stressful situations on a daily basis. Coping with the demands of a busy profession, maintaining skills and knowledge, and balancing family and personal commitments can be difficult.
Surgeons, like the rest of society, can struggle with depression, anxiety and poor mental health. The work environments surgeons find themselves in may also contribute to high levels of stress due to administrative processes, fear of litigation and inappropriate behaviour such as bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.
As surgeons we are very busy people, but we must never ignore our own health. To do so would be to put not only ourselves, but our families and patients at risk. I encourage each and every one of us to attend a GP practice on a regular basis. This is important to maintaining and protecting our health, whether it is about our physical or mental health.
There are many GPs who specialise in looking after other health professionals. They are mindful of issues such as privacy and are used to making it easier for other medical practitioners to access healthcare services.
Let's make our own health a priority. Go and see a GP and make that a regular part of your health regimen.
Facts and figures
One of the greatest barriers to seeing a GP, reaching out or seeking support is the potential impact you think it may have on your registration to practise. Now it's time to get your facts straight.
Your appointment with your GP is completely confidential, as is any subsequent appointment with a health professional or specialist.
Your condition will only be reported to the relevant regulator in extreme circumstances where your GP believes your behaviour or conduct may place your colleagues or the public at risk of harm.
If the risk (the condition) is addressed and managed through treatment with a GP or specialist, mandatory notification is not required, and cannot be made where there is no risk to the public.
Find out more about mandatory reporting, AHPRA and state laws in relation to notification, and the New Zealand's Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.
According to the RACS 2018 Surgical Workforce Census (PDF 874.97KB) approximately one in four Fellows reported that it has been more than two years since their last general health check-up and a further 8.5 percent reported doing their own health check-up.
Mental health and wellbeing
There has been a growing recognition of the significance of mental health in the workplace and specifically within the medical profession. A national survey of doctors and medical students commissioned by beyondblue focused community attention on mental health within the medical profession (beyondblue, 2013). One of its salient findings was that surgeons reported substantially higher rates of recent suicide ideation compared to both the Australian population and other professions. Clinical medical students, in particular, also reported comparatively high psychological distress.
The beyondblue study relating to the entire medical profession and trainees in Australia reported that approximately six per cent of all doctors and 3.6 per cent of surgeons had a current diagnosis of depression. Current anxiety diagnosis was reported by 3.7 per cent of all doctors and 2.1 per cent of surgeons.
A study of New Zealand hospital doctors found that the 29.1 per cent of psychological distress among were comparable to those of general practitioners in NZ, Australia, and the UK and were significantly higher than the general NZ population (Clarke and Singh, 2004).
According to the RACS Census (2018) Australasian Fellows reported high or extreme stress being attributed to administrative regulation (24 percent) and administrative process (19 percent) amongst other stressors. While there is no comprehensive comparable study in New Zealand, there are indications of similar levels of psychological distress amongst New Zealand doctors (NZMA, 2013).
RACS recognises the issue of mental health and wellbeing within the surgical profession and the need to provide surgeons with more targeted support and resources.
RACS Support Program through Converge International
RACS partnered with Converge International, a specialist in psychology, mental health and wellbeing. Converge provides confidential support to Fellows, Trainees and International Medical Graduates and their immediate family members. This arrangement allows them to access up to four sessions per year for counselling, coaching and support for workplace, emotional and personal issues.
The RACS Support Program (RACSSP) is a free 24/7 professional and confidential counselling service for RACS Fellows, Trainees and International Medical Graduates. It is an initiative of RACS to provide you and your Fellow Surgeons, Trainees and IMGs with access to confidential counselling, coaching and support for workplace, emotional and personal issues.
The RACSSP also provides RACS members the opportunity to confidentially discuss mental health and workplace bullying and harassment, as well as any other areas of concern, and is also available for family members needing support across personal and/ or lifestyle concerns.
You can speak with a Senior Converge International Consultant face-to-face, over the telephone or via the internet.
For more information download the RACS Support Program brochure (PDF 502.55KB)
EAP and Converge International Apps
Operating with Respect training
In line with the commitment of the RACS Building Respect, Improving Patient Safety Action Plan (PDF 1.05MB), a mandatory Operating With Respect course is delivered to recognise the importance of resilience in maintaining respectful interactions and how to respectfully deal with work day stresses.