AHPRA, Mistrust, and Medical Culture in Australia

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

From nearly the moment that medical students take their oaths, the assault on one’s mental health begins. Students understand that they will make sacrifices to study medicine, but the understanding that the medical field may take a significant mental health toll is generally overlooked and underappreciated. Many factors leading to this demise have been well-described in the literature, yet, a doctor’s mental health is often not discussed, silenced by both professional and societal stigma. This is a worldwide issue with some disastrous consequences. For example, in the United States alone, an estimated 300-400 doctors commit suicide each year, more than doubling the rate of the general population. This is equivalent to an entire cohort of medical students, making the profession among the most dangerous in the country. In Australia, doctors experience significantly high levels of psychiatric morbidity, which typically manifest as depression, anxiety, burnout, and suicidal ideation, eroding both their personal and professional lives. Many doctors do not seek help for mental health conditions, largely due to stigma as well as an unfounded fear of a notification to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This essay will outline issues surrounding concerns that doctors with mental health issues may have regarding AHPRA and discuss the mistrust that persists in contemporary medical culture in Australia.

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