Effectiveness of a Unique Support Group for Physicians in a Physician Health Program


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Abstract

State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) assess, support, and monitor physicians with mental, behavioral, medical, and substance abuse problems. Since their formation in the 1970s, PHPs have offered support groups following the 12-step model for recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs). However, few programs have developed support groups for physicians without SUDs. This study at the Massachusetts PHP (Physician Health Services Inc.) represents the first effort to survey physician attitudes concerning a unique support group that goes beyond classic addiction models. The group was initiated because of the observation that physicians with problems other than SUDs did not fit easily into the 12-step framework. It was hypothesized that such a group would be effective in helping participants control workplace stress, improve professional and personal relationships, and manage medical and psychiatric difficulties. With a response rate of 43% (85 respondents), the survey identified a strong overall impact of the Physician Health Services Inc. support group, identifying positive effects in all areas of personal and professional life: family and friends, wellness, professional relationships, and career. Respondents identified the role of the facilitator as particularly important, underscoring the facilitator’s capacity to welcome participants, manage interactions, set limits, and maintain a supportive emotional tone. The implications for physician health extend from supporting a broader application of this model to using a skilled facilitator to manage groups intended to reduce the stress and burnout of present-day medical practice. The results encourage PHPs, hospitals, medical practices, and physician groups to consider implementing facilitated support groups as an additional tool for maintaining physician health.

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