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01 Jul 2007 | Australasian Dental Practice

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Healthcare practitioners: stay healthy!

Working as a healthcare practitioner is not necessarily the key to a healthy life. The stresses involved in delivering care can lead to drug and alcohol problems or to financial difficulties. Working in the medical or dental profession can, paradoxically, result in a lack of access to healthcare through self-diagnosis or simple denial.


Established in 1982 to help doctors and now dentists, veterinarians and students with health concerns, the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW) is celebrating 25 years with the hosting of the 2007 International Doctors’ Health Conference in Sydney in October. Here is how they help:

QWhat is the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service all about?

AThe Doctors’ Health Advisory Service (NSW) aims to ensure that no NSW doctor, dentist, veterinarian or undergraduate in these professions lacks access to health care. We operate a telephone Help Line and are available to provide personal advice to practitioners in difficulty. We provide health promotion and educational information through our website and lecture to interested groups. The advice is used mostly in relation to drug and alcohol problems, stress and mental illness, or personal and financial difficulties. No problem is too trivial or too serious. We believe that all practitioners and students should have their own general practitioner, should not attempt to assess their own symptoms and should consult their GP if they are unwell. We encourage the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

QAre the health concerns of dentists and other healthcare professionals any different to the community at large?

AWe have evidence to suggest that doctors and dentists have difficultly admitting when they have a problem, be it physical or mental. They will often self-diagnose and self-treat. Problems can arise through their access to habit-forming medications, more so doctors, but also for dentists. Dentists have stressful jobs, and, as with other health professionals, spend their working time dealing with the problems of others.

QHave these concerns always been an issue or are health issues increasing?

AHealth problems appear to be increasing in the medical profession. There are less data for dentists, but there is no reason to suspect that their problems are any different.

QWhat are the commonest health issues DHAS deals with?

AThe DHAS takes calls from distressed practitioners and concerned family and colleagues. The commonest problems are work-related stress, depression and anxiety, and drug or alcohol habituation.

QWhy should practitioners contact the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service?

AThe DHAS can offer practical advice, and facilitate appropriate referral and support. We are uniquely placed to fully understand the problems faced by healthcare professionals. Incoming callers are put in contact with one of a panel of senior medical practitioners experienced in handling such problems. The caller is then offered advice over the phone and, if necessary, recommended to consult a GP, a specialist, or other professional. Because confidentiality is a prime concern, the DHAS does not collect any identifiable data. It cannot, therefore, report practitioners to any registration or disciplinary body. In exceptional circumstances, if someone is in imminent danger, the Management Committee might, to ensure that person’s safety, authorise notification of a third party legally authorised to intervene in the interest of patient welfare.

QWhat is a typical case dealt with by Doctors’ Health Advisory Service?

AThere isn’t a typical case - the problems of each practitioner are unique.

QWhat specialised help can you offer a healthcare practitioner?

AWe are not a treatment service. We can facilitate referral where necessary and we have a specialist advisory panel who can offer advice and assistance where necessary.

QWho is involved in the organisation and how is it funded and administered?

AThe DHAS is managed by a Committee comprising nine doctors, a dentist and a veterinarian. Almost 30 general practitioners are accredited to answer calls. They are backed-up by appropriate specialists and other healthcare professionals. Other than receiving financial support from the NSW Medical Board, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Dental Association and the Veterinary Surgeons’ Board, we operate independently of all medical, dental and veterinarian professional bodies, including the registration boards.

QWhy should a practitioner come to your conference in October 2007?

AMany aspects of the health of practitioners and of the management of their problems will be discussed. We believe it will be an interesting, informative and empowering experience for attendees.

QHow can people help and become involved in DHAS?

AWe always need more general medical practitioners to assist as first call panelists.

QWhat do I do if I need help?

AWe have a dedicated telephone service available 24 hours a day. If you have a problem or need advice, please call (02) 9437-6552.

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