For many doctors, the key threat to this optimal work
ability during middle age and beyond is stress and burnout.
“All of us would feel committed to providing patient care – that’s what gets
us out of bed in the morning – but if they overwork, there is a risk of
becoming disillusioned and burnt out,” says Professor Dobb.
The AMA points out that not all stress is negative – indeed, some stress is
necessary – but there are multiple internal and external stressors in
Some of the personality traits common in doctors
underpin their professional success but can also lead to anxiety and
depression, such as dedication, commitment and a sense of responsibility,
competitiveness and altruism.
A lack of institutional support
is a significant issue for senior doctors, particularly those in private
practice. This can be combined in later years with an increasing incidence of
chronic disease and fatigue.
from non English-speaking or Indigenous backgrounds, those who are working in
rural and remote areas without adequate support, and those working long hours
are particularly at risk of poorer wellbeing.
Psychiatrist Dr Michael Diamond, who treats many doctors among his
professional patients, says doctors seeking psychiatric assistance invariably
present late in the illness genesis, usually after some attempt at
Their adaptive attempts might include
lifestyle adjustment and taking a break or, more commonly, simply working
harder, isolating more or shutting off emotionally from their family, friends
and colleagues before turning to alcohol, drugs or other tension-releasing
“Eventually, the attendance is prompted by some
sort of crisis in most cases – with their family or marriage, substance abuse,
an investigation by a medical registration body or a patient complaint. It is
usually a case of too little too late before formal, appropriate assessment
and treatment ensue,” he says.