Doctors have been told to "practice what they preach" in a
study that has found medical professionals regularly risk
infecting their patients and colleagues, because they fail to
meet their own health needs.
The study, which was published in today's New Zealand
Medical Journal, suggested overwhelming desire and pressure
to work, reliance on self-medication, toxic work environments
and poor general wellbeing were behind the "potentially
A change in attitude is desperately needed, according to New
Zealand Medical Association chair Dr Mark Peterson.
"This is of concern, both for the doctors' own health, and
for that of the patients they treat," he said. "We appreciate
that doctors don't want to leave their colleagues in the
lurch, and don't want to feel as though they're letting down
their patients. But to take care of patients, they must take
care of themselves."
One survey referenced in the study found more than 80 per
cent of workers surveyed at a district health board had
worked while sick. Another found only 71 per cent of GPs had
their own family doctor and only 11 per cent visited their
doctor for regular checkups.
Twenty eight per cent of female GPs surveyed had not
undergone recommended cervical screening.
When combined with stress, fatigue, depression or general
psychological distress, such lack of basic self-care could
lead to treatment or medication errors, the failure to fully
discuss treatment options with patients, reduced
attentiveness and less caring behaviour towards patients, the
It was suggested improvements would be made if doctors
registered with a GP, sought formal healthcare when
necessary, acquired appropriate insurance and ensured basic
wellbeing by eating well, exercising regularly and having
Specific advice included: "when you visit your general
practitioner, leave your 'medical mantle' at the surgery
door" and "when ill health strikes, seek help early (as you
would like your patients to)."
Finding ways to manage early stressors, such as student debt
and the pressure to make career decisions early on, was also
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical
director Dr Samantha Murton agreed it was not ideal for
doctors who were unwell to work, but said there were many
situations when it became difficult to take time off,
especially if there was a full day scheduled and no-one to
take over the care of the patients.
"Practices need to work out their own arrangements for
managing illness amongst staff, especially at this time of
the year,'' she said.
"We would encourage them to discuss this amongst the team and
work out what is best for both staff and patients,
recognising that this may require everyone to be more