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Nov 27 2017

Wellspring by NCPHP: Bringing Wellness, Resilience and Recovery

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Image for Wellspring by NCPHP: Bringing Wellness, Resilience and Recovery When I first meet with a physician or PA, I usually begin our conversation with a question: What does the individual know about the North Carolina Physicians Health Program? Most often, my query is answered with another question – “Aren’t you the group that helps alcoholic doctors?” In more than a decade of asking this question, I have yet to hear an answer that, I believe, truly gets to the heart of what we do. NCPHP helps medical professionals address difficult issues that affect their ability to practice safely so they can get back to doing what they most want to do – taking care of patients.

In this new column in the Forum, I and my colleagues at NCPHP will share some of the ways we are working to improve the lives of medical professionals. NCPHP has made a lot of changes and much progress over the last several years, and I am excited to offer physicians and PAs a clearer understanding of the services we provide. Did you know, for example, that approximately one third of the medical professionals referred to NCPHP each year come to us for reasons other than alcohol or substance use? We are much more than just “the people who work with alcoholic doctors.”

In future columns, NCPHP will discuss topics such as recognizing when a colleague’s conduct is serious enough to warrant intervention (this may or may not involve reporting the colleague to NCPHP). We will offer guidance on understanding boundary crossings and violations and how to safeguard yourself and your organization. We look forward to sharing the differences between substance use, substance misuse and substance use disorders. This column will also explore many aspects of professional burnout, such as how to know the difference between burnout and other problems that may mimic its symptoms. One of the significant changes NCPHP has made in recent years is bringing in national expertise in recognizing and effectively treating physician burnout (NCPHP’s current Medical Director is Dr. Clark Gaither – We have a lot to say and, I believe, a lot to offer, on this subject. A few months ago, there was a tragic event in New York involving a physician who took his own life after shooting and killing another physician and seriously wounding six bystanders. I am not familiar with the specifics of this case and cannot offer any wisdom about what caused this individual to act out in such a violent manner. However, I can tell you the morning this news broke nationally, my email and phone lit up with messages from PHP Directors across the country. My colleagues wanted to discuss what had happened and what, if anything, could be done to prevent a similar tragedy.

I offer this anecdote because I believe it provides important insight into what motivates people who work in PHP organizations. At our core, we are compassionate health care providers seeking to help physicians and PAs figure out what is causing their problems and, wherever and whenever possible, address them. In this way, we are not that different from the physicians and PAs we serve.

It is rarely a joyful day when a physician or PA takes the critical step of getting in touch with NCPHP, either because they have decided it is time or because someone else – a colleague, a practice partner, hospital administration, or the North Carolina Medical Board – has required it. The work we do with our participants, and the work these individuals must do personally, is by no means easy. However, it is tremendously rewarding when a professional struggling with life and work because of the issues that have brought them to NCPHP’s door is able to move forward in a constructive way.

Every day when I go to work, I see anguish in the eyes of NCPHP’s physician and PA clients, and it only strengthens my determination to guide them to the help they need. I hope you will keep an open mind about NCPHP as this column develops. We welcome suggestions for topics to be addressed in this space. Please send them to

 Comments on this article:

Joe, thanks for all you do for physicians in our state. Through your work, you have a unique perspective and a lot of insights to share. I look forward to seeing how this column develops.

By Logan Graddy, MD on Nov 28, 2017 at 10:33pm

We all need to do our part in recognizing those among us struggling with problems that seem larger than life and get them the help and support they need. Great article Joe and I look forward to one day joining you in your important work on this front and getting organizations to recognize and help their own. Keep up the great work!

By Ronald Prucha on Dec 09, 2017 at 10:39am
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