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Dec 2 2020

From the President: Seeking help during the prolonged stress of COVID

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NCMB President Venkata Jonnalagadda, MD
Dr. Jonnalagadda
In November, during NCMB’s regularly scheduled Board Meeting, I had the honor of being sworn in as this distinguished body’s 122nd President. I am profoundly grateful to have this opportunity to serve. But this first President’s Message is not about me.

Instead I want to acknowledge what a tremendously stressful time this is for medical professionals and encourage licensees to make self-care a priority. Stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms are all associated with an increased risk of relapse in individuals with substance use disorder. They also increase the chances that someone with no prior history of misuse may turn to alcohol or other drugs as an unhealthy way to cope.

I write this thinking mainly of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which affects us all in myriad ways.

I am thinking of frontline clinicians facing a third surge of COVID-19 patients even as we head into flu season. I am thinking of licensees, practices and employers worrying over financial stability or even unemployment as patients continue to avoid or defer care to reduce their exposure. And I am also thinking of licensees who may be juggling children in virtual school and/or the responsibility of providing extra assistance to help vulnerable family members stay safe during the pandemic, along with all of their other obligations.

And of course, we are heading into the holiday season, which can be a stressful and isolating time even when we are not facing a pandemic.
Given these conditions, it is imperative that clinicians remain vigilant in addressing behaviors that may increase risk of harm to themselves or jeopardize their ability to practice safely. Sadly, but not surprisingly, over the past several months NCMB has noted an uptick in alcohol and substance use relapses among licensees with a history of substance use disorder.

Please remember that it is possible to seek assistance for depression and/or substance use without your identity becoming known to NCMB and get help if you need it. Nor is it necessary to notify NCMB if you have initiated treatment. NCMB understands how important it is for its licensees to have the ability to get help without fear.

If you do not drink alcohol or have a history of substance use, it may be easy to think of this issue as someone else’s problem. I would argue, however, that this is a community issue. Those of us who are able should actively work to lift and support friends and colleagues in crisis. I implore those of you in leadership positions in medicine to consider whether your organizations are doing all they can to adequately support clinicians who may be struggling.

In closing, I want to remind everyone that the NC Professionals Health Program is a supportive resource available to anyone struggling with substance use or depression. Call them at 919-870-4480. For those who prefer a different resource, I encourage you contact a local provider for help if you need it or look into some of the national resources available to clinicians. Among them are the Physician Support Line at 888-409-0141 or www.physiciansupportline.com, the Emotional PPE Project available at www.emotionalPPE.org, or Project Parachute, which can be found at www.project-parachute.org.

Thank you for your attention.

Be well.

 Comments on this article:

Thank you so much,  Dr. Jonnalagadda for addressing these very important issues.  So often as physicians we give so much of ourselves and do so much to ensure the health of our patients that we neglect our own health and well-being.  Furthermore, the nature of what we do can easily lend itself to burn-out if we don’t consciously take time to decompress.  Again,  thank you!

By Marion Wright, Jr., MD on Dec 04, 2020 at 6:55pm
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