Physicians experience burnout and mental health crises at higher levels than the average population. However, barriers to seeking mental health care, such as stigma and the fear of losing one’s ability to practice medicine, often cause them to suffer in silence. For physicians across the country, State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) often provide a lifeline for mental health support.
For many physicians across the U.S., PHPs respond to the pressing need for a dedicated platform where physicians can seek support and care in a confidential manner. Established from initiatives taken by the American Medical Association in 1978, PHPs, led by the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP), have emerged as a groundbreaking approach in nearly every state.
These proactive programs across the U.S. and Canada offer preemptive access, serving as a safety net before concerns escalate. At the heart of PHPs lies confidential, therapeutic and long-term care.
Participation in PHPs is voluntary, fostering a sense of agency and empowerment among physicians. For some, PHPs serve as an alternative to discipline such that PHPs provide long term monitoring as a condition of licensure. Furthermore, these programs facilitate advocacy for physicians and extend a resource to colleagues or employers concerned about another physician’s wellbeing.
Outcomes for PHPs are remarkable as compared to the general population for the same conditions. For example, a striking 80% success rate among physicians completing PHPs to treat substance use disorders contrasts with the general population’s at 50%. Physicians who have finished PHPs share stories of personal and professional recovery, highlighting how their mental health and career paths have been revitalized. One state’s outcome data suggests that physicians with mental and behavioral health conditions can be successfully monitored in a similar fashion as physicians with substance use disorders — and with similarly positive outcomes. Furthermore, one study reports that malpractice risk for those who complete a PHP is lower than for physicians practicing medicine who have never been followed by PHP monitoring.
However, a persistent challenge looms—raising awareness among physicians. Stigma, deeply ingrained in the medical culture, often prevents open dialogue about mental health. Yet, PHPs remain steadfast in their commitment to break the silence. Their efforts have already touched the lives of thousands of physicians, cascading positive effects for their peers, patients and health systems.
“I see physicians on the worst days of their lives,” Dr. Michael Baron, President-Elect of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs, and Tennessee Medical Foundation Medical Director, describes how PHPs deeply impact physicians. “Physicians often see themselves as what they do. Their job is who they are, and when that is stripped away from them, it can be devastating. Physicians who participate in PHPs express tremendous gratitude for the support they receive to improve their wellbeing and positively change their lives.”
Contact your State PHP today to learn more about the resources available to you, to health professionals in your organization, or for a colleague with whom you may have a concern. https://www.fsphp.org/state-programs