Doctor, your own health is important

Australian Medical Association/AusMed

Doctors’ health was a major theme of the AMA National Conference 2019, with a number of speeches, sessions and motions dedicated to keeping the issue at the forefront of the collective mind of the medical profession.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone, in his opening address, told conference delegates that the health and wellbeing of doctors was a high priority for the Association.

“We have led some innovations recently… but despite these welcome initiatives, addressing the individual and organisational issues that can harm doctors’ physical and mental health remains a challenge for our profession,” he said.

“The rate of suicide among medical professionals continues to be a blight on our profession. Most doctors have been touched by the loss of a colleague during their careers.”

Dr Bartone also led the resolution of a conference motion to reaffirm the AMA’s support for the updated World Medical Association Physician’s Pledge – the Declaration of Geneva – that now includes: “I will attend to my own health, wellbeing and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.”

The AMA motion affirms that doctors must also value the health of their colleagues.

The conference opened with delegates citing the pledge.

Keynote speaker, Dr Michael Myers, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Centre in Brooklyn, New York, said the updated pledge was a “watershed moment” that brought tears to his eyes when he first heard it.

“To see it finally embedded in the charter, the recognition of the importance of our own health, was extremely important and gratifying,” Dr Myers said.

He said it was vital to keep talking about doctors’ own health to ensure it remains a high priority on the profession’s agenda.

“In so many respects, we’re still a vocal minority, but I just see that getting louder and louder,” he said.

“… So many doctors feel, when they fall ill, a sense of inner marginalisation.”

Dr Myers said keeping the “three Rs” of Recognition, Representation, and Rights at the centre of discussion about doctors’ health would drive the momentum for action and progress.

“We give so much to others that we really don’t take care of ourselves,” he lamented.

Former AMA President Dr Mukesh Haikerwal chaired a conference session on doctors’ health, with Dr Myers as a panel member.

Others on the panel were Avant chief medical officer Dr Penny Browne, psychiatrist Dr Helen Schultz, Beyond Blue board member Dr Jessica Dean, and crazysocks4docs founder Dr Geoff Toogood.

As already reported Australian Medicine, Dr Toogood was awarded the AMA President’s Award for his ground-breaking work in building awareness of doctors’ mental health.

Dr Bartone joined another panel during the conference to discuss reforming Australia’s mental health system.

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