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Clinician health not just about compassion

‘Distress is common among physicians, and can have substantial personal and professional implications. Extensive research has demonstrated a strong link between physician’s personal well-being and the quality of care they provide patients.’

This is the trail for the first keynote speech by Minnesota professor of medicine Tait Shanafelt at the International Conference on Physician Health, which starts today.

It sums up why doctors’ interest in this subject is more than about compassion for colleagues who are sick, crucially important though that is. The performance of a colleague who is sick can affect all those they treat and work with.

The conference, organised jointly by the BMA, and the US and Canadian medical associations, is held every two years to share latest research, inspire thinking and build leadership skills. This time, it’s in Montreal.

The 375 attendees are being set the goal of developing personal action plans to improve health and resilience, identify new support systems for doctors, and demonstrate the link between healthy doctors and high-quality patient care. BMA Doctors for Doctors unit head Mike Peters, who has helped organise the conference, says doctors are perfectionists, and often experts in knowing what to say to hide health problems. They can be extremely reluctant to seek help.

From the UK, those presenting research or workshops include London deanery associate dean Antony Garelick, head of the doctors’ confidential health service MedNet, who will explore ‘discomfort in the doctor-to-doctor therapeutic relationship’ through film and clinical vignettes developed with help from Dr Peters.

The aim is to spur discussion and increase understanding about how doctors treat doctors.

Tomorrow, Cardiff University Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research senior medical research fellow Deborah Cohen will present research on the prevalence of mental health disorders in medical students, and on the views of medical students on the factors that impact upon their well-being during training.

Stay tuned for news stories, blog postings, pictures and more.

Amid all the learning and networking, doctors will also be finding time to ‘Walk the Doc’ — going on restful walks — as well as practising mindfulness meditation and taking part in mutual help meetings.

Mike Foster is a writer for BMA News

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