While doctors are less likely than the general population to suffer lifestyle-related illnesses such as heart and smoking-related disease2-3 evidence shows that doctors are at greater risk of mental illness and stress-related problems and more susceptible to substance abuse.4-5 Further, depression and anxiety are common among doctors and their suicide rate is higher than in the general population.6 Often, doctors struggle to shift from being the ‘helper’ to ‘the helped.’ However the Medical Benevolent Association of New South Wales is trying to change this.
This year the Association - which provides financial assistance and counselling support to medical practitioners in need, and their families - celebrates 120 years of service and according to UNSW Medicine alumni and Association Council Chairman, Dr David Chen, the Association is as vital now as it was when it started in 1896.
“Doctors are not immune to crisis, illness and personal tragedy and the Association is living the ideals and values of a caring profession,” he said.
“It is also the embodiment of the modern day version of a little know part of the Hippocratic Oath - "To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers…”
Currently, the Association is assisting more than 50 medical families in need, and on a monthly basis assist doctors with varying requests, from those needing help getting back into the workforce, those with children with significant developmental or medical issues, to those unable to work due to things such as mental and chronic health issues or cancer. In 1941 the Association also added a dedicated social worker to its list of services, providing ongoing support and working with the Councillors to alleviate financial stress for doctors in need.
UNSW Medicine alumna is well represented in the Association, with Dr David Chen as Chairman, Dr Felix Choi as Treasurer, Dr Russell Pearson as Vice President, Drs Brassil, and Mina on the Council, and Meredith McVey currently employed as the Association’s social worker. According to Dr Chen, doctors join the Council for numerous reasons however: “all embody the original thoughtful, kindly, independent group who started the Association all those years ago - giving back to their medical colleagues and assisting those in need.”
“Members bring to the table a variety of personal attributes, combined with the skills and knowledge of their various specialties with wide representation from Surgery, Medicine, Psychiatry, General Practice, Occupational Medicine and Medical Administration and drawing from retired, experienced and recently qualified doctors.” he said.
“A number of our Council have also been members for over 15 years, some following in the footsteps of their fathers (and even grandfathers), who were previous Council members – so there is a strong tradition within the profession of giving back.”
The Association is a small independent organisation, managed by a council of up to 20 registered medical practitioners. The Council meets monthly and considers each request for assistance. The Association is entirely funded by donations and bequests from the medical profession and other supporters.
For more information about the Medical Benevolent Fund of New South Wales please visit the website or contact 02 9987 0504 for more details.
References, cited at www.ama.com.au
1) Oberg EB, Frank E. Physicians' health practices strongly influence patient health practices. J R Coll Physicians 2009; 39(4): 290-1.
2) Carpenter L, Swerdlow A, Fear N. Mortality of doctors in different specialties: findings from a cohort of 20,000 NHS hospital consultants. Occup Environ Med 1997; 54: 388-395.
3) Clode D. The conspiracy of silence: emotional health among doctors. Melbourne: Royal Australian College of General Doctors. 2004.
4) Willcock SM, Daly MG, Tennant CC, Allard BJ. Burnout and psychiatric morbidity in new medical graduates. Med J Aust2004; 181: 357-360.
5) Schattner P, Davidson S, Serry N. Doctors’ health and wellbeing: taking up the challenge in Australia. Med J Aust 2004; 181: 348-349.
6) Elliot L, Tan J, Norris S. The mental health of doctors – A systematic literature review executive summary. Melbourne: beyondblue: the national depression initiative, 2010.