PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: Paul H. Earley, MD, DFASAM, Fall 2019

Saturday, October 5, 2019
Paul H. Earley, MD, DFASAM

We are living in an era of national divisiveness, where poorly formed or baseless opinions are used as fodder for derision on the public stage. Fueled by social media, where truth is unnecessary or irrelevant, even our public leaders use unbridled hostility as a weapon of power against those with whom they disagree. This attitude of considering the opposing views of others as categorically erroneous (and a sign of ignorance, stupidity, and even evil) has spread to all of us in varying degrees, even those who have been trained to rely on science as the basis for verisimilitude.

I recall the early 1990s, working with physicians who struggled with mental health and addiction disorders. Each year in Georgia, we had two to five physicians die of overdose or suicide—deaths of despair. Regrettably, some physicians suffer from an extraordinarily hostile self-concept, and without hope of proper treatment or well-structured disease monitoring, those at the edge of this curve died. Our state was late in sanctioning the development of a PHP; at that time our physicians suffered the brunt of this oversight. Today, in states covered by PHPs, vastly improved outcomes are the norm.

At the same time, professionals who struggle with these same potentially impairing conditions are exposed to wider varieties of information containing polarized opinions. Unfortunately, social media aimed at physician health has the same divergent content as politics and star fandom. Seeking help has become more confusing than ever before. With a plea to use science, those of us in the field urge our medical (and hopefully data-respecting) colleagues to be mindful of all sources of information, those that are credible and validated and those that are not.

We have obligations here, too (the we here is every state and province PHP as well as the FSPHP itself). It is our job to increase the dissemination of accurate information, clarifying the role of PHPs, the science of outcomes, and the stories of those whose lives have moved from despair to recovery and meaningful living.  At the same time, we must eschew the natural tendency to react to our naysayers without consideration. Great value comes from being aware of divergence of  opinion, especially when it is spewed into social media or published in faux-scientific journals. In doing so, we  learn about how we appear to others, while deepening our patience with those who judge based on subjective and unvalidated anecdotal information.

The most important gathering of the year in physician health is the annual business and scientific meeting of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs. My impression is all who attended the 2019 FSPHP Annual Meeting, Perplexing Problems and Effective Solutions for Treating and Monitoring Healthcare Professionals, in Ft. Worth would agree. The wide range of important topics covered reminds me that we have a deep bench of subject matter experts in our field and that each presenter and participant were there to improve the lives of all who work in medicine. We learn from one another, widening our approaches and expanding our skills in this vital field. Now more than ever, it is an important time for all of us to stay abreast of research in the field, to work together to create even better outcomes, and to participate in the FSPHP’s quality improvement initiatives. At the same time, we should go forth sharing the PHP message of strength and hope to the wider healthcare field. Healthcare professionals with potentially impairing conditions need to hear with consistency and clarity that PHPs are a place for them to come forward to seek support and help for any potentially impairing conditions they face. With all this in mind, please take the time to read and review summaries from our last conference. And, might I add, consider what you will bring to our 2020 meeting in San Diego!