Sick GPs fail to practise what they preach

September 27, 2001

Challenge of culture, conscience, and contract to general practitioners' care of their own health: qualitative study BMJ Volume 323 pp 728-31

Family doctors - burdened with a sense of duty of not letting down their patients or partners - fail to acknowledge their own ill health and attempt to work through their symptoms, says a report in this week's BMJ.

Thompson and colleagues in Belfast studied 27 Northern Ireland GPs about the effects of their profession and training on their attitudes to illness in themselves and their colleagues. Their report says "A sense of conscience towards patients and colleagues and the working arrangements of the practice were cited as reasons for continuing to work through illness and expecting colleagues to do likewise." They found GPs felt a need to portray a healthy image to both patients and colleagues. This hindered them from taking part in health screening or acknowledging personal illness.

GPs talked about the pressure to appear physically well. They reported a perception that patients believed a doctor's health somehow reflected his or her medical competence. Several reported that the GPs' medical knowledge made them prone to swing between panic and denial when they experienced potentially serious symptoms.

Family doctors were concerned about the current level of illness within the profession and the report concludes that steps must be taken to promote appropriate care of their own health among doctors. The authors make a number of recommendations in relation to education and occupational health support.


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