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Aug 16 2016

Seeking help for depression, without fear

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ARTICLE SUMMARY
    • Licensees should not forgo treatment for depression for fear of medical board interference
    • Licensees who are stable under treatment typically do not need to reveal their diagnosis to the Board at renewal
    • Licensees who are stable under treatment for depression may skip the NCMB renewal question on medical conditions



Every year when physicians and physician assistants complete their annual license renewals with the Board, they are confronted with a question, which asks, “Since you last renewed have you become aware of any medical condition that impairs or limits, or could possibly impair or limit, your ability to practice medicine safely? Medical condition includes…psychiatric or psychologic conditions or disorders…”

If you are depressed or contemplating seeking help how should you answer this question? If you are seeing a physician or psychiatrist and stable on medication what should your answer be? And, just as important, what will the Medical Board do with the information you provide?

This article is intended to encourage physicians and other NCMB licensees to seek help free of the unwarranted concern that doing so will automatically lead to Board intervention, discipline, or licensure limitation.

It is recognized that individuals who consider suicide may lose the ability to think clearly or to develop a plan to cope with the situation. These individuals often end up believing self-destruction is the only solution. Most psychiatrists concede that often nobody really knows why someone commits suicide, and survivors are left with many unanswered questions and inadequate answers. Despite this, something can be done to help.

There are resources available to physicians and other medical professionals who are struggling with depression. The North Carolina Physicians Health Program (NCPHP) can provide non-disciplinary and confidential assistance that ensures the physician’s identity is protected, provided patient care has not been negatively impacted by the physician’s behavior. The NCMB renewal question specifically states, “If you are an anonymous participant in the NC Physicians Health Program and in compliance with your contract, you do not need to list any medical conditions related to that contract.” In other words, a licensee who reaches out to NCPHP for help with depression or other psychological problems is generally not required to disclose his or her mental health issues to the Board. Physicians are allowed to remain anonymous so long as NCPHP can establish they are safe to practice, are not an imminent danger to the public, or have not committed sexual boundary violations. Self-referrals to NCPHP are encouraged, especially when it results in licensees seeking help earlier in their illnesses. If you are burned out, depressed, under severe stress, or considering suicide, the Board’s primary concern is that you get the help you need.

Licensees who seek treatment independent of NCPHP may also remain confidential to the Board. A physician or PA who is currently under the care of a physician for a stable psychiatric condition that does not impair or limit his or her ability to practice medicine is not required to report that condition or treatment during renewal.

Even if depression or other psychological issues have already negatively impacted your practice or patient care, there are resources available to help you heal and rebuild. NCPHP boasts many, many stories of successful participants who return to productive personal and professional lives after receiving the help they need. Where appropriate and necessary, NCPHP is willing to advocate on behalf of successful participants to help them obtain licensure or reinstatement with the Board.

If a licensee reports a condition at license renewal, the Board will review the answer with the intent to determine if there is a clear connection between the reported condition and the licensee’s ability to practice safely and competently. On occasion the Board may request additional information or clarification, such as a fitness to practice letter from a treating physician. The Board expects licensees who report conditions to act in a professional and ethical manner and appropriately self-limit practice as needed.

The important point is to avoid the impulse to let a serious problem go untreated due to unwarranted concerns about Medical Board interference. Obtaining timely assistance may, in fact, be essential to preserving both your life and livelihood.

North Carolina Physicians Health Program (NCPHP)
For more information about NCPHP and the services it provides visit: www.ncphp.org/

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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