Bitter Pill: Young Doctors Five Times More Stressed Than The Rest Of Us


By Jorge Branco

It's hard to look after a patient if you can't look after yourself.

High rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, substance misuse and self-medication are an ongoing problem among doctors and other medical and health professionals.

It was a problem Australian Dr. Chris Zappala was aware of, noting junior doctors were a "vulnerable group of individuals".

A newly expanding program from the peak health body was aiming to help young doctors better deal with the stress of working, including dealing with death, trauma and acute illness on a regular basis.

However, Dr Zappala said there wasn't a direct link between those serious mental health issues and the formation of the Australian-first program, piloted in Rockhampton last year.

Instead, it was aimed more broadly at teaching young doctors techniques to better cope with everyday stress, death and compassion fatigue or burnout and, in turn, provide better patient care.

The Resilience on the Run program teaches mental resilience, mindfulness and communication and Dr Zappala hopes it will roll out across the state.

More than 145 junior doctors at Logan, Redlands and Princess Alexandra Hospitals will take part as it begins a wider rollout, hoped to eventually go statewide.

BeyondBlue's 2013 report noted a quarter of doctors had thought about suicide in the two years before the survey, twice the general population. Two per cent of doctors reported having made an attempt on their life.

Dr Zappala said he hoped to see an increase in doctor wellbeing but cautioned against expecting the program to make an impact on suicide numbers.

"I'd love to say yes but to be honest I don't think we should set our sights that high," he said.

"If we can create a more resilient, a more robust and a more capable new medical workforce then I'll be happy.

"I mean these guys will be called upon to do amazing things in their careers and the job of being a doctor is getting harder not easier."

For Logan Hospital intern Ben Cahill, 26, the major problems were dealing with regular death, sometimes of patients he and other doctors had become quite attached to, as well as juggling work-life balance.

"Usually we're pretty good at looking after other people but we're not so good at looking after ourselves," he said.

"A key part of the understanding is that it's difficult to look after patients if you are struggling to look after yourself anyway."


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