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Factors associated with psychiatric morbidity and hazardous alcohol use in Australian doctors

Louise M Nash, Michele G Daly, Patrick J Kelly, Elizabeth H van Ekert, Garry Walter, Merrilyn Walton, Simon M Willcock and Chris C Tennant
Med J Aust 2010; 193 (3): 161-166.

Summary

Objective: To identify factors associated with psychiatric morbidity and hazardous alcohol use in Australian doctors.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional postal survey of 2999 doctors (including all major specialty groups, trainees and general practitioners) insured with an Australian medical insurance company. The potential for psychiatric morbidity was measured by the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), and the potential for hazardous alcohol use by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). The survey was conducted in 2007.

Main outcome measures: Demographic, work-related and personality factors associated with a GHQ score > 4 and an AUDIT score ≥ 8.

Results: Factors significantly associated with psychiatric morbidity in doctors were: having a current medicolegal matter, not taking a holiday in the previous year, working long hours, type of specialty, and having personality traits of neuroticism and introversion. Factors significantly associated with potentially hazardous alcohol use were being male, being Australian-trained, being between 40 and 49 years of age, having personality traits of neuroticism and extroversion, failing to meet Continuing Medical Education requirements, and being a solo practitioner.

Conclusions: The mental health of medical practitioners is crucial to the quality of care their patients receive. Doctors should reflect on their hours of work and need for holidays. Involvement with medicolegal processes, such as lawsuits, complaints and inquiries, is a stressful part of medical practice today. Doctors need to be educated about these processes and understand how the experience may affect their health, work and loved ones.

  • Louise M Nash1,2
  • Michele G Daly3
  • Patrick J Kelly4
  • Elizabeth H van Ekert5
  • Garry Walter2,6
  • Merrilyn Walton7
  • Simon M Willcock3
  • Chris C Tennant7

  • 1 New South Wales Institute of Psychiatry, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Discipline of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Academic General Practice Unit, Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 4 School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 5 MDA National, Sydney, NSW.
  • 6 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Northern Sydney Central Coast Health, Sydney, NSW.
  • 7 University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.


Acknowledgements: 

Our study was funded by a Northern Sydney Health research grant, the McGeorge Bequest (through the University of Sydney) and Avant Mutual Group Limited. The New South Wales Institute of Psychiatry provided a part-time research fellowship to Louise Nash from January to August 2008.

Competing interests:

Avant provided funding for a part-time research officer (Michele Daly) and mail-out of the questionnaire, as well as inhouse support for sample selection and comparison. Simon Willcock is an elected board member of Avant. Elizabeth van Ekert is a former employee of Avant.

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