Common personality traits of physicians have been described in a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association.5
Generally, physicians are perfectionists. They tend to have a strong sense of responsibility and a need for both control and approval. They often are plagued by self-doubts and tend to defer or delay gratification. All of these traits can affect the course of their chronic illness—the diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management.
Physicians often delay getting help when they first notice symptoms of an illness. The reasons for such delay include not wanting to appear weak or as if they are overreacting. They may be concerned about being wrong in their self-diagnosis or may not want to “bother” colleagues. Some physicians may not think that self-care is a priority, perhaps assuming they will “get around to it later.”
The treatment of physician-patients may differ from that for other patients. Physician-patients often deny or minimize their symptoms, which may result in inadequate treatment. Physicians may find it difficult to care for a colleague or to explain things adequately to them. Physician-patients may want to take control of their own medication schedules—by self-medicating, changing medications or dosage, or discontinuing medications on their own.
Accepting that they have a chronic illness is often difficult for physicians, most of whom hold idealistic views of their role in treating illness and fighting disease. The discovery that they have a chronic illness may lead to grief as they mourn the loss of their own perfect health. They may be anxious about the outcome of the illness and have fears of being disabled to the extent that they are unable to function as a physician—a huge part of their identity. Some physician-patients react with anger, frustration, and protest at being unable to prevent or fix their illness. Others may feel the injustice of contracting a disease that they think they do not deserve. Guilt can arise when they acknowledge the added burden their illness places on their families at home and their colleagues at work, especially when no contingency coverage is provided in their practice or the inflexibility of their work schedule makes it hard to take time on short notice.