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Apr 30 2022

From the President: Providers heal thyselves! Don’t wait to seek help for substance use or mental health issues

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NCMB President Jown W. Rusher, MD
Dr. Rusher
In March, the Board got a preview of NCMB’s 2021 Annual Report . I was struck by a detail in the section on case resolutions: NCMB saw a more than threefold increase in 2021 in public adverse actions related to licensee alcohol and substance use, when compared to 2020. The actual numbers are small – 27 actions in 2021 compared to 8 actions in 2020 – but it is a worrying sign of the tremendous stress physicians, PAs and other medical professionals are coping with.

A few months into the coronavirus pandemic, NCMB began hearing that more licensees who had been stable in recovery were experiencing relapse. The 2021 public actions data point is an objective indicator that confirms what we already suspected – more of our colleagues are turning to unhealthy ways of dealing with the unrelenting pressures of practicing medicine that have only become more acute during the pandemic.

Now more than ever, I want licensees to know that the Board values their health and wellbeing and recognizes that a clinician’s mental and physical health impacts their ability to provide safe medical care. Anyone who is struggling with substance use or mental health issues should know they can seek help without fear of reprisal from the Board.

NCMB wants to be sure that all physicians and PAs are aware that NCMB no longer asks licensees to disclose whether they are in treatment for mental or physical health conditions during the annual renewal process. NCMB removed this question from its annual renewal questionnaires in January 2017 to reduce potential barriers to treatment. NCMB has since removed similar questions from its license applications.

To be crystal clear on the point, this means that licensees may seek treatment for any mental or physical health issue without the fact of such issue or treatment becoming known to the Board. Licensees may receive care and, if determined safe to practice by their treating clinicians, continue to serve patients. NCMB is notified of a licensee’s identity only if they are consistently noncompliant with treatment or if they relapse or become impaired to the point where they cannot practice safely.

Thus, the Board encourages licensees to seek assistance as soon as they realize that they may be developing a substance use issue or experiencing a decline in mental health. Such conditions rarely improve with time, and delay could result in a serious event, such as a DWI, that would bring the licensee before NCMB and result in public regulatory action.

I also want to remind licensees that the NC Professionals Health Program (NCPHP) is available to anyone struggling with substance use or mental health issues. Call them at 919-870-4480, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a free confidential consultation and help locating assessment and treatment services. NCPHP may be an especially valuable resource now, when there is high demand for substance use and mental health services and local providers may not have capacity to see new patients on an urgent basis. Again, this service is completely confidential - NCMB is not informed when a health care provider seeks help from the NCPHP.

In addition to NCPHP, there are also some national resources focused on providing mental health support to clinicians, especially those dealing with COVID-related stress and burnout. Three such resources NCMB is aware of are: the Physician Support Line at 888-409-0141 or www.physiciansupportline.com, the Emotional PPE Project available at www.emotionalPPE.org, and Therapy Aid, which provides free, short-term therapy to US essential workers, www.therapyaid.org.

One of NCMB’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that the medical professionals it regulates are able to provide care with reasonable skill and safety. We know that clinicians must first attend to their own physical and mental health in order to provide good care to patents. I urge you to take advantage of the resources available to help in coping with the stresses of practicing medicine.

Thank you for all you do for your patients and communities.

Be safe and well.

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