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Return to Work Difficult for Doctors on Sick Leave

Physicians report self-stigmatization as a central theme preventing return to work

THURSDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Returning to work after a prolonged sick leave for physical or mental health problems, or drug or alcohol problems, is difficult for doctors, who describe self-stigmatization and fear a negative response on their return to work, according to a study published online Oct. 15 in BMJ Open.

Max Henderson, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., from King's College London, and colleagues interviewed 19 doctors who had been away from work for at least six months with physical or mental health problems, or drug or alcohol problems, to explore the obstacles preventing doctors from returning to work.

The researchers found that doctors reported that being away from work left them sad and isolated. Some deliberately concealed their problems and many experienced negative reactions from their family. A lack of support from colleagues was reported and doctors feared a negative response when returning to work. A central theme was self-stigmatization; a number of doctors appeared to have internalized the negative feelings of others and described themselves as failures.

"Self-stigmatizing views, which possibly emerge from the belief that 'doctors are invincible,' represent a major obstacle to doctors returning to work," the authors write. "From medical school onwards, cultural change is necessary to allow doctors to recognize their vulnerabilities so they can more easily generate strategies to manage if they become unwell."

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