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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 September 29; 335(7621): 630.
PMCID: PMC1995527
Sick Doctors

Uniquely disadvantaged

Anthony E Livesey, consultant in adolescent psychiatry

Klitzman's article on interviewing doctors as patients highlighted interesting and important perspectives on the patient's position, role, and motivations, as well as the unique position of doctors as patients.1 Sometimes seen as a perk of the job by others, I suggest that doctors may occupy a uniquely disadvantaged position when ill.

We may struggle with taking time off work, taking up the time of an already busy colleague, and the impossibility of remaining objective about our own condition (usually underplaying symptoms). This position is further exaggerated by guilt at not having been able to manage our condition without recourse to a fellow doctor. The complicated set of dynamics can be further exaggerated if we present with a depressive illness or other psychiatric condition. Any objectivity and insight is long gone, and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and inadequacy compound a difficult presentation but also affect the ongoing relationship needed for treatment. We may also harbour anxieties around having to maintain a professional relationship with our physician when we return to work.

As a profession I am not sure that we are sufficiently aware of (or comfortable with) the position of the sick doctor. Fearing a possible charge of nepotism should not deter us from looking closer.


Competing interests: None declared.


1. Klitzman R. Pleasing doctors: when it gets in the way. BMJ 2007;335:514 (8 September.)

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